Biggest losers: The 36 worst NFL seasons of all-time and the coaches that led them

Winslow Townson

What's the fate of a coach like Gus Bradley or Greg Schiano? History says that there's a good chance they won't coach again, but also that there's a slight chance they'll be Super Bowl bound. Very slight.

"The Jaguars didn't lose this week!"*

It's an old joke, a tired joke, but in a year like this you have to reach deep in the proverbial laugh bag as often as you can if you're a Jags fan. Or a Bucs fan. Or a Vikings fan. Take part in any legal activity that you can (or don't get caught) as you ease the tension while enduring one of the worst seasons in franchise history. For fans, we simply lash out in anger, disgust, or veiled fits of laughter, and then we move on with our lives.

*Note that most of this article was written during the Jaguars bye week and before their victory on Sunday. Oh great!

It can be easy to forget that within the next two or three months, a considerable number of NFL jobs will become available, because a considerable number of coaches and front office employees, will be fired.


Imagine standing on the dead grass outside of an automobile plant in Flint, Mich., during the job crisis that started to cripple that city, and pointing and laughing at the misery of those that knew their time was inevitably coming to an end. Also try to pretend like Greg Schiano isn't going to get fired and then go take a decent college position for a six-figure salary after Tampa Bay fires him, but don't forget that for every head coach that are a considerable number of assistants that won't have as good of an idea of what's next in their life.

Or that for every general manager that fills his offices with "his guys," is a lot more people whose day-to-day routine are not much different than you or I. They're still just trying to make a paycheck, feed family, and make it to the next. Some of them might love their jobs, some of them might actually hate their jobs, but plenty of them are doing everything they can to be successful on their own and yet they also watch the games on Sunday.

Except when they see Jacksonville drop to 0-8, they know that it carries a lot more weight for their personal future. (And winning the first game of the season can change their whole lives.)

How will staff members be watching tonight's game as the 0-8 Bucs face the Miami Dolphins? And conversely, what will it mean to the overall franchise now that they lead for the number one pick in next year's draft?

However, right now, it would appear that Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley, general manager Dave Caldwell, and most of the rest of the first-year personnel are safe no matter what. Despite having one of the worst seasons in NFL history, few people are surprised to see the Jaguars at 1-8. Though, it is still one of the worst first-half teams we've ever seen.

Jacksonville had been outscored by 176 points before Sunday, the third-worst point differential through eight games ever. The 1966 Falcons were outscored by 204 points through eight games and the 1954 Washington Redskins were outscored by 192.

The Falcons finished 3-11 in a 14-game season and the Redskins finished 3-9 in a 12-gamer. It would be rather shocking to see Jacksonville win three games in the second half of the season. In all likelihood, Bradley's team will win somewhere between 1 and 2 games. Schiano's Bucs could have a similar fate.

I tracked 36 instances in NFL history of a team that lost 14 or more games in a single season and looked closely at the careers of the head coaches that oversaw those teams. I wanted to know how many of them survived past that season, how many were fired during the season, how many ever coached again, and possibly, if any of those coaches were any good.

Over a sample of 36 you are likely to have some exceptions, and this was no different. A few of the coaches are names that will forever hold weight in the football community as the greatest minds and leaders that the sport has ever seen. Before there were 14-game or 16-game seasons, Tom Landry went 0-11-1 during his first year as head coach of the Cowboys. He didn't post a winning season until his seventh year as head coach. Bill Belichick was fired as coach of the Browns. Bill Parcells went 3-12-1 in his first season with the Giants.

How do you know when to stick it out and how can you tell when the guy's simply not going to stick?

The head coaches that are still in danger of losing 14 games this year are: Bradley, Schiano, Leslie Frazier, Gary Kubiak and Mike Smith. Maybe only one or two of them actually do, but believe it or not in historical context, none of them are safe from this list just because they might have won a Super Bowl or two. (Before Sunday, Tom Coughlin and Mike Tomlin still only had two wins. I guess the champs decided to "champ up" before this article was published.)

Even the best have been here before.

Here's a closer look at the head coaches that have lost 14+ games, and eventually, what happened to them:

The very first head coach to lose 14 games in a season also happens to hold the distinction of being the only coach ever to do it in a 14-game season. John McKay took over the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976, and they didn't win their first game as a franchise until Week 13 ... of 1977.

McKay went 7-35 over his first three seasons with Tampa but led them to the playoffs in 1979, losing 9-0 to the Los Angeles Rams in the Conference Championship game. He again led them to playoffs in in 1981 and 1982, but McKay also became one of the few coaches on this list to show up twice.

Tampa Bay went 2-14 in 1983, and he was a head coach for the final time in 1984.

The Bucs expressed a strong commitment to McKay, and it nearly paid off once, but he would retire after the '84 season and was replaced by Leeman Bennett in 1985. Oops.

McKay shows up on the 14-loss list twice, but he's not alone. Bennett had moderate success as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons in the '70s and '80s, but when the Bucs hired him in 1985, he was semi-retired. It showed.

Bennett led the team to a 2-14 record during his first season as head coach and then the following year, duplicated that mark. His 4-28 record over a two-season stretch is as bad as you'll ever see. The Bucs have managed to avoid a 14-loss season ever since, but Schiano needs to go 3-5 over the final eight games of the year if they're going to avoid that in 2013.

That is, if he's given the chance...

During the 36 seasons of 14-or-more losses, there have been seven instances of a coach being fired during the season. If it's that hard to get fired during the year, then you can get a sense of how bad things have to be in order for it to happen:

— Kay Stephenson went 2-14 for the Bills during his first season as a head coach in 1984, but was retained for another year. He started the season 0-4 and was replaced by Hank Bullough, before Buffalo ultimately finished 2-14 for the second-straight year. The team retained Bullough for the next season but then fired him in the middle of the season, replacing him with a guy named Marv Levy, who would later lead them to four straight Super Bowl appearances.

— Scott Linehan was fired as head coach of the Rams after an 0-4 start in 2008 and replaced by Jim Haslett, who went 2-10 over the rest of the season. The next coach up for St. Louis was Steve Spagnuolo, a coach that would wind up with a 14-loss and a 15-loss season in two of the next three years.

— The Colts fired Ron Meyer in 1991 after five games and replaced him with Rick Venturi. They would replace him the next year with Ted Marchibroda, a coach that had already had one stint with the franchise. Marchibroda was fired after in 1979 and replaced with Mike McCormack, a coach that went 2-14 for the Colts in 1981.

— The Houston Oilers also had to make the difficult decision of firing a coach midseason, replacing Jack Pardee after an 1-9 start in 1994 with Jeff Fisher. Though they still finished 2-14, the Oilers kept Fisher around for another 16 years. He's never lost more than 12 games in a season and he only lost double-digit games three times.

Of every coach to take part in a 14-or-more loss season, and there are some notable names, Fisher has more wins than any of them with 153.

— Other coaches fired midseason include Ed Biles with the Oilers in 1983 and replaced with Chuck Studley and Dick Nolan fired by the 1980 Saints and replaced by Dick Stanfel, but perhaps the most important firing came by the 49ers in 1978.

San Francisco let go of Pete McCulley in the middle of the '78 season and replaced him with Fred O'Conner on their way to a 1-15 finish. That would be the only time that either of those men would be head coaches in the NFL and only Stanfeld (four games with the Saints) had a shorter career stint as a head coach on this list than McCulley and O'Conner.

The next year the 49ers went the college route, hiring, and later sticking with, Bill Walsh.

Now, McCulley has the shortest stint of any head coach to be a part of a 14-loss season, but he's not the only one to not be given a second year to turn things around. That's something that Bradley will have to be wary of, especially since he replaced a guy that was only given one year.

The Jaguars hired Mike Mularkey to replace Jack Del Rio (fired midseason the year before and replaced with Mel Tucker on an interim basis) but it only took 16 games and a 2-14 finish for Shahid Khan to know that's not what he wanted.

The same one-year fate was given to Rod Rust and the 1990 New England Patriots, Art Shell and the 2006 Oakland Raiders, and Cam Cameron with the 2007 Miami Dolphins. Romeo Crennell took over for Todd Haley at the end of the 2011 season and retained the job, only to go 2-14 and be fired by the Kansas City Chiefs after the year.

Now, the Jaguars are not an expansion team, so Bradley won't have any leverage there, but three coaches were given a lot of leverage because the teams were brand new: Chris Palmer and the 1999 Cleveland Browns, John McKay and the '76 Bucs, and Dom Capers with the 2002 Houston Texans.

Palmer went 5-27 over his two seasons with the Browns, while Capers 14-loss season came in his fourth year with Houston and he was let go and replaced by Kubiak. Could Kubiak be headed to a 14-loss season after eight years with the team? He wouldn't be the only coach to find himself down the wrong path after a long career with one team.

John Fox's 2-14 season with Carolina came in his ninth season with the Panthers. He was fired and replaced by Ron Rivera, but it was Fox that was on the other side of that deal almost a decade early. Fox was brought in to replace George Seifert, after the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach of the 49ers went 1-15 in his third season with Carolina.

But Seifert isn't the only coach with Super Bowl experience to find himself with 14-or-more losses and back on the job market.

The Colts hired Jim Caldwell to replace Tony Dungy in 2009, and he didn't miss a beat, leading Indianapolis back to the Super Bowl after a 14-2 season. Except, did he really have much to do with that? The Colts went 10-6 the next season and then when Peyton Manning missed all of 2011, fell to 2-14. Caldwell was fired and the team cleared the house for Andrew Luck, much in the way they did for Manning 15 years earlier.

The Bengals hired Dick LeBeau, a Hall of Fame defensive back, in 2000 to try and turnaround the franchise for the better. But Cincinnati went 2-14 in 2002 and fired LeBeau, so he had to find work elsewhere. He found it in Pittsburgh with Bill Cowher as the defensive coordinator, and he's won two Super Bowls in that position under two different head coaches. Another Hall of Fame player to coach a 14-loss team was Mike McCormack, who did so for the Colts in 1981. Herman Edwards didn't make the Hall of Fame, but he was a very good player. His record as a coach is "OK" but he was fired after going 2-14 with the Chiefs in 2008.

Tom Flores won two Super Bowls with the Raiders ('80 in Oakland, '83 in Los Angeles) but in 1992 he took over the Seattle Seahawks and went 2-14. He coached two more years in Seattle, going 6-10 in both, and didn't coach again. He should have known better than to tempt fate with the Seahawks.

The guys that danced around greatness.

Bill Parcells never had a 14-loss season but he took over for two coaches that did, first replacing Dick MacPherson and the Patriots in 1993 and then doing the same for Rich Kotite and the Jets in 1997. Parcells would enjoy some success with those teams, but never brought back the Super Bowl glory days like they were hoping for.

Of course, this list wouldn't be complete without the Lions barberloss quartet:

Monte Clark in 1979, Marty Mornhinweg in 2001, Rod Marinelli in 2008, Jim Schwartz in 2009.

They're all notable in some way. Clark stayed on as coach for seven seasons, going to the playoffs twice and Schwartz could also be looking at his second playoff berth following a terrible year. Mornhinweg was only there for two seasons, and he matches Chris Palmer's 5-27 career record, which is only better than Bennett's 4-28 mark with the Bucs. And finally, Marinelli gets the distinction of being the only coach in NFL history to lose 16 games in one year.

But again, Bradley might not be far behind. (He did it! But Schiano hasn't yet.) So what hope is there for Gus? Some.

There are a few notable college coaches on this list, including Mike Reilly and the 2000 Chargers that went 1-15, or Dennis Erickson and the 2004 49ers that went 2-14, but they aren't the most notable. There are still two coaches that can give Bradley, and any coach going through a rough first season, a reason to believe.

To recap:

— Out of 36 seasons, seven were fired during the year and 15 didn't get more than two years.

— Out of 44 coaches to at least partially lead a team during a 14-or-more loss season, 35 never became a head coach again after their time with the team was over.

— The coaches spent an average of 3.25 years with that respective team, but that number is bouyed by a few great coaches and really doesn't represent how bad most of their career records really were. Who were the coaches?

Many people doubted Jimmy Johnson when he took over the Miami Hurricanes in the early-'80s, but eventually he became one of the most successful college coaches of the era. In 1989, his buddy Jerry Jones asked him if he wanted to coach the Cowboys and he obliged but things again didn't start out smoothly.

Johnson went 1-15 in his first season as an NFL head coach, but Jones would stick by his buddy.

Of course, Troy Aikman was just a rookie in 1989, and then they would trade Herschel Walker and draft Emmitt Smith in 1990, then win the Super Bowl in 1992 and 1993. Johnson would later spend four years with the Dolphins and retire with an 80-64 career record, but 79-49 after his first season as a coach.

Having a rookie quarterback that's only just getting started might be a key to success for any new head coach.

We already mentioned Bill Walsh once as a coach that took over a 2-14 team, but he was also in for the same fate. The 49ers went 2-14 during his first season as head coach after being hired away from Stanford, but there was plenty to hope for. The 1979 49ers were only outscored by 108 points, the lowest point differential ever for a team to lose at least 14 games.

In fact, the team lost five games by six points or less, and you could argue were good enough to go 7-9 or better. But just like Johnson and Aikman, Walsh was in for quite a treat with his rookie quarterback.

The team started rookie Joe Montana just once in '79, but turned it over to him full-time in 1980. The 49ers would go 6-10 that year, but one year later won their first of five Super Bowls over the next fourteen seasons. Three under Walsh and two under Seifert.

Both Walsh and Seifert would lose 14-or-more games in a season, just on opposite ends of their careers.

The bad news for Gus Bradley is that Blaine Gabbert is not Aikman or Montana, and that his team was outscored in eight games what most bad teams are outscored in 16, but you really never know what you're going to get. (You might even get a win just before an article about your winless team is published.)

There's a 95-percent chance that the Jaguars and Bradley won't win a championship in the next five years, but as Walsh and Johnson have proven maybe, just maybe... You never know.

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