Which NFL Coach Has Had the Shortest Tenure With a Team?

NFL coaches dream of Super Bowl rings and long tenures with their teams. Many coach for at least a couple of years as a worst-case scenario. Some, like Bill Belichick, move from team to team as they build their resumes until they settle down with a franchise and pursue long-term success. Others do not have that kind of luck.

Many of the coaches on this list did not have winning records as head coaches, but two of them could be considered among the greatest coaches of all time. No matter what, all make the list of the shortest tenures as the head coach of an NFL team.

Can an NFL coach bounce back after being fired?

Many coaches who fail in the NFL go on to have respectable careers coaching at the college level. Others choose a path of less responsibility, such as an offensive or defensive coordinator position elsewhere in the league. Some even return to the elite status of NFL head coach. Many on the list of shortest tenured NFL coaches seemed to drift into obscurity following their firing, as the Pro Football Hall of Fame details.

Coach Lane Kiffin, son of former offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Monte Kiffin. Lane’s tenure as an NFL head coach was tumultuous due to his relationship with Raiders owner Al Davis, who fired Kiffin after just four games in 2008. His overall tenure with the Raiders was 20 games with a total record of 5-15.

Following his stint as an NFL coach, Kiffin returned to coaching at the college level. He was head coach at the University of Tennessee for one year before returning to the University of Southern California where he had previously held the position of offensive coordinator. 

Another former NFL coach with a short tenure was Lou Holtz who led the New York Jets in 1976. The team went 3-11 that season and Holtz resigned prior to the final loss of the season. He never coached in the NFL again. However, the now-84-year-old enjoyed an award-winning career coaching at the college level. Holtz ultimately ended up in the College Football Hall of Fame.

NFL coaches with the shortest tenures in the league

George Allen was an incredibly successful coach. He is a Hall of Fame coach, an honor well deserved when you look at his record. Back in 1978, at the beginning of his second stint coaching the Los Angeles Rams, he had never had a losing season in 12 years of coaching. After two preseason games, Allen was fired by the team. Throughout the successful 12 seasons of his coaching career, his win-loss record was 118-54-5.

Pete McCulley had never been a head coach before the San Francisco 49ers hired him in 1978. The 49ers committed 63 turnovers that season, and he was fired after just nine games.

McCulley went on to serve as the receivers coach for the New York Jets from 1979-83 and the quarterback coach for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1983-87. Then, he went overseas where he became the head coach of the Finland national American football team from 1989-91.

The NFL coach with the shortest tenure is Bill Belichick

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches from the sideline
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on the sideline | Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire

The man who holds the record for the shortest tenure is also one of the winningest coaches of all time. The New York Jets fired Belichick in 1999 after just one day as head coach — with no game played under his leadership. Jets fans were furious, especially after the ensuing season went south once again.

Belichick had been the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the Jets for three years when beloved head coach Bill Parcells left his position. He named Belichick as his successor. It turns out that Belichick had not been happy during his time with the Jets and was exploring greener pastures.

One Jets fan was so mad that he attempted to sue Bill Belichick for $185 million. The court case was dismissed. Shortly after walking away from the Jets, he became the head coach of the New England Patriots. We all know how well that has worked for him; 22 years later, Belichick is still coaching the Patriots,

Stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com

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