Non-Starter: A look at rookie coaching hires that led to more grief than glory

A lot of teams look to a new man under the headset to bring them to the promise land. Here's a selection of ones who only brought broken promises.

Although the NFL season seems to be benchmarked by August and February, it seems as though there the rest of the year is occupied by other processes that are integral to preparing each team for the 17 week grind. There's the Draft season of the Spring where each college recruit is dissected to see if they're worthy to play at the next level. The summer is peppered with the gradual integration of the various training grills. Then there's the season that starts at the end of the regular season and runs through the playoffs: Coaching search season. Tampa Bay and Washington were by able to end that season early by making direct offers, but their selections were very different. The Bucs chose longtime Bears HC Lovie Smith whereas the Redskins decided to give a chance to Jay Gruden, an offensive coordinator with an arena league background.

There are plenty of advantages to either approach, but this article examines the pitfalls of putting a major franchise in the hands of an unproven entity, like Washington is doing now and Philadelphia did when they hired Chip Kelly. Every great leader needs to start somewhere, and humble beginnings often precede glorious accomplishments. The men on this list performed poorly enough that they never got another chance to coach at the NFL level. If you are looking for another pile-on of recent send-offs Mike Shanahan or Jim Schwartz, flip to a different article. The criteria for this list is rather discriminating. None of these guys would reach the playoffs during their tenure. None of them were rehired as a head coach at the NFL level. Also, there is only one who lasted more than one season. Where necessary, I added the other individuals on the staff or in the front office who bore some of the blame.

Bill Peterson -- Houston Oilers (1972-73)



After building a strong foundation at Florida State, Peterson had progressively worse seasons, on two different teams in the same city.

Qualifications: Peterson had a genial demeanor, and was able to take the moribund Florida State Seminoles program and upgrade it, including their first ever victory over the Florida Gators. In 1971 Peterson left for the then-prestigious Rice Owls program in Houston, but only went 3-7-1 that year, which was actually worse than the prior year. He was hired in place of the hot-headed Ed Hughes for the Houston Oilers. This franchise had been a powerhouse once who and had won two titles in the old American Football League. But Hughes had raised eyebrows with his short temper towards his assistants and trainers, and had fired some of them on the spot without consulting owner Bud Adams. The hope was that the more easygoing Peterson would be able to use the same talent to improve on 1971's 4-9-1 record.

Performance: Dan Pastorini was Houston's second-year quarterback, and other key players included future hall of famer Elvin Bethea at defensive end, safety Ken Houston, and receiver Charlie Joiner. The Oilers won their third game in 1972, the home opener against the Jets, and their two losses prior to that included one against the Miami Dolphins who had would go undefeated that season.

The Tipping Point: On Monday Night Football a week later in the Astrodome, Peterson's squad was completely blown apart by the Oakland Raiders 34-0, and America was treated to the image of a dozing fan waking up and giving the finger to the camera. The Oilers never recovered, and lost out on the season. The fans also proved especially fickle that season, with crowds getting progressively smaller until their last home game was watched by a half-capacity crowd of 32,482, who must have felt awfully lonely seeing the Bengals thrash the home team 61-17. Peterson's garbled manner of speech was the subject of ridicule in the press, and many argued that he wasn't confident and polished enough for the different style of the NFL. Whereas he had been coaching raw prospects at Florida State, the Oilers were a team composed of mostly mature players. Bewilderingly, Bud Adams overlooked the disastrous 1-13 first year and retained Peterson. The 1973 Oilers were just as pitiful, losing their home opener in Week 3 36-7 to rising stars Pittsburgh. In Week 5 they were blown out for the second consecutive year by Denver, this time 48-20 at home. It was the last straw, as Peterson was canned, and would never coach again.

Legacy and outcome: His reputation in the NFL was so sullied by his 1+ season with Houston, that few today remember his role at Florida State, where he mentored such future coaching legends as Bobby Bowden (FL State), Joe Gibbs, Bill Parcells, and Earle Bruce (Ohio State). The Oilers would only improve thereafter under passing impresario Sid Gillman (1974-75) and the legendary Bum Phillips (1975-80) who brought them their greatest success when they reached the AFC Championship and almost upset Pittsburgh. Peterson would go on to be the Athletic Director at Rice during the 1980s but would never coach in any capacity again.

Record: 1-18 Winning Percentage: 0.053

John McVay -- New York Giants (1976-78)
and offensive coordinator Bob Gibson



John McVay in the happier confines of San Francisco.

Qualifications: McVay had been a coordinator for Michigan State and head coach of the University of Dayton Flyers prior to being the coach of the Memphis Southmen in the short-lived upstart World Football League in 1974-75. When the league folded he replaced Giants coach Bill Arnsparger mid-season in 1976.

Performance: One would think that being head coach of one of two teams in the nation's largest market would be a prestige position, but in the 1970s the vibe was very different. Both the Jets and Giants struggled to find permanent home grounds, let alone succeed on the field. The Giants also had inferior talent compared to their division rivals Washington and Dallas. Arnsparger had been a defensive coach, and the Giants were accordingly a flat offensive team, relying heavily on the run. They had a miserable campaign in the new Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands. In 1976 former Dolphins superstar Larry Csonka was brought in at full back, but the G-Men mustered more than 20 points only once. After a 27-0 drubbing by Pittsburgh and dropping to 0-7 Anrsparger was fired and replaced by McVay, who promptly salvaged the season by winning three of the remaining seven games. The Giants went 5-9 in 1977 with three rookie quarterbacks including "Off-Broadway" Joe Pisarcik who would win the job.

The Tipping Point: 1978 was supposed to be a year when the Giants were competitive, and after Week 8 they were sitting at 5-3 after a rousing home victory against Washington. The momentum broke the next week when they lost on the road to the weak New Orleans Saints, and then they lost the next two away games. On November 19 they returned home to face the usually punchless Philadelphia Eagles, and with less than a minute left they were up 17-12 with the credits rolling. Pisarcik took a knee only to be bowled over by a blitz. In order to prevent a big play, Giants OC Bob Gibson called a run play to Csonka, and the hand-off was mismanaged. Eagles CB Herman Edwards, going on a stunt blitz was in perfect position and gobbled up the fumble, taking it in for the winning score. The Miracle at the Meadowlands led to a resurgence in Philadelphia, but only frustration for the Giants.

Rather than propel the Giants upward, McVay was perceived as an ineffectual coach. Gibson and the other assistants were perceived as favourites of his and domineering, in particular Gibson who was notoriously dismissive of Pisarcik's passing abilities. His play call for the hand-off to Csonka instead of a kneel down exposed how little confidence he had in his players. The rest of the season would be just as frustrating for the rest of the team, as they would win only one more game, and McVay was promptly fired. The first priority for the Giants was to be competitive with the other three NFC East teams, and McVay's 0-4 record against Philadelphia and 0-5 record against Dallas showed that he had failed to accomplish that.

Outcome and Legacy: The Giants endured four more mediocre seasons under Ray Perkins, and were widely considered to be the worst team in the NFC East. That changed in 1982 when Bill Parcells was hired and brought discipline, motivation, and toughness to the field. One of the only holdovers from the McVay era was LB Harry Carson who would eventually make the Hall of Fame. As for the coach himself, McVay was hired in 1980 as the San Francisco 49ers' GM and would go on to have a fantastic career by drafting Roger Craig, Jerry Rice, and other superstars.

Record: 14-23 Winning percentage: 0.379

Frank Kush -- Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts (1982-84)

and Owner Robert Irsay



Frank Kush in a familiar stance during his time with Arizona State.

Qualifications: For most of his career Frank Kush could do without the NFL, as he coached the Arizona State Sun Devils from near obscurity in 1958 to accomplishments such as five straight Western Athletic Conference crowns in the 1970s and an undefeated 12-0 season in 1975 culminating in a Fiesta Bowl victory and no. 2 ranking. His program had produced Danny White, Mike Haynes, and others who were by 1982 proven NFL talents. Baltimore was one of the most turbulent teams in the '70s and '80s. After Ted Marchibroda revived the team with three division titles from 1975-77, he eventually was replaced by Mike McCormack who led them back to mediocrity.

Performance: Kush was a strict disciplinarian who had been fired abruptly by Arizona State for striking a punter and engaging in a cover up when the press got wind of the affair. He spent 1981 as coach of the CFL Hamilton Tiger-Cats. One could imagine how thrilled he was when the NFL players went on strike after Week 2 with the Colts having already dropped their first two games. The Colts had also drafted two rookie quarterbacks in the off-season, Arizona State product Mike Pagel in the fourth round, and Ohio State standout Art Schlichter in the first round.

Tipping Point: During the strike shortened season Baltimore went 0-8-1 finishing last in the NFL and ensuring them of the top pick in the '83 Draft. One distraction during the interim was that Schlichter, an inveterate gambler even while at OSU, was embroiled in an FBI investigation into bookie rings and was as a result banned. At the same time, team owner Robert Irsay was openly scouting new locations for the Colts in other cities. Kush actively lobbied for Irsay to bring a team to Phoenix which at the time had no NFL franchise.

Another major blunder was the Colts' decision to draft John Elway at first overall despite his very public objection to playing in Baltimore. In a draft where Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason were available at the same position, Kush and GM Ernie Accorsi could have settled for one of those options. Instead, Elway held out and the Colts eventually traded him to Denver for their pick, Guard Chris Hinton, a draft pick, and backup QB Mark Herrmann. One of the main reasons Elway had objected to the Colts' selecting him was Kush's domineering reputation. Nevertheless, Baltimore would earn a respectable 7-9 record in 1983. It was following that season that Irsay packed the team up and moved it to Indianapolis. They would lose their first game at the Hoosier Dome and earn a disappointing 4-12 record with Schlichter back having been reinstated.

Outcome and legacy: Kush was fired and the Colts would have two more awful seasons before Ron Meyer revived them in 1987. The disastrous selection of Elway is only more remembered today because nobody remembers Kush's bad match with Schlichter, who was released by Baltimore in 1985 after he regressed into gambling. He also shamelessly helped Irsay abandon Baltimore. Kush would never coach again in the NFL, although in 1985 her got his wish to coach in Arizona with the USFL's Outlaws. The pleasure was brief as the USFL would never play another season after that.

Record: 11-28-1 (19-38-1 if you count the USFL) Winning Percentage: 0.275

Rod Rust -- New England Patriots (1991)

and Owner Victor Kiam



Rust and Kiam plotting their next blunder . . . um, I mean adventure.

Qualifications: Rod Rust had cut his teeth as a defensive coordinator for Dick Vermiel and Marv Levy, two legendary coaches.He almost 30 years of coaching experience under his belt once Remington shavers magnate Victor Kiam hired him. Kiam, who had bought the team in 1988 from owner Billy Sullivan, was a hands on owner (seem familiar readers?). He fired coach Raymond Berry a venerated figure who had been a mainstay as Johnny Unitas' receiver in the 60s and led the Patriots to their only Super Bowl appearance until then.

Performance: The Patriots were a barren assembly of nameless players at the time, apart from WR Irving Fryar who had been on the AFC Championship team in 1985. The team played at Foxboro Stadium, halfway between Boston and Providence, which meant that it was equally accessible and avoidable to all of New England. Rust may have been a capable coordinator with the Eagles and Steelers, but the talent in those places had been at a higher level, especially on defense.

Tipping Point: In Week 2 the Patriots won a close road victory at Indianapolis. Lisa Olson, a Boston Globe reporter attempted to interview several players in the locker room during the following week, and was subjected to verbal taunts and sexual gestures by three Patriots players. Rather than discipline the players, Kiam called Olson a "classic bitch" and was reprimanded by the NFL. The lax attitude of the organization showed that Kiam was not the entrepreneurial genius that he claimed to be in his books. The Patriots would never show a serious effort following the Lisa Olson incident, getting blasted by teams like the Cardinals, Jets, and in particularly being swept by Marv Levy's Bills. A famous play involved Eagles QB Randal Cunningham scrambling to the sideline. Upon realizing there was no one there to push him out of bounds Cunningham simply kept going and scored. Rust's team went 1-15 a year after Jimmy Johnson's Cowboys had the same record. The only difference was that Rust had no plan and no second chance.

Outcome and Legacy: The Patriots brand meant nothing in a region that had the Red Sox and Celtics in the 1990s, both still having superstars. Attendance during the 1990 season sunk to a pathetic 22,286 to watch the Pats get blasted by Washington. Kiam had bought into the team hoping to use the prestige for his own business ventures, but it turned out to be a white elefant, and he sold it after facing bankruptcy in 1992. The next owner, James Orthwein sought to move the Patriots to St. Louis, but in 1994 Robert Kraft bought them and kept them in New England. Kraft hired Bill Parcells and eventually his DC Bill Belichick, and the rest is history. And Rod Rust? He would serve as an assistant on several NCAA, NFL, and CFL teams until 2005.

Record: 1-15 Winning Percentage: 0.063

Dave Shula -- Cincinnati Bengals (1992-96)



Dave Shula striking one of his father's poses.

Qualifications: Being the son of won of the NFL's greatest coaches must have been intimidating. Don Shula had built the Miami Dolphins into one of the signature franchises, and had led the Colts to Super Bowl III at age 38. Dave Shula served as quarterback and wide receivers coach in the '80s, and in 1989 was named offensive coordinator for Jimmy Johnson in Dallas. But in 1990 he was demoted back to QB coach. It is therefore surprising that in 1992 the Bengals named him their head coach. They had been to the Super Bowl in 1989 but in 1991 they went 3-13 and coach Sam Wyche was fired. Some of the best players like Boomer Esiason and Anthony Munoz remained though.

Performance: Dave Shula used the sixth overall pick to draft Dave Klingler out of Houston as Esiason's understudy. The Bengals won their first two games under him, but would go on to have a 5-11 season, including 20-0 and 21-9 losses to the Steelers. In 1992 with Klingler starting, the Bengals started 0-10, including a 38-3 thrashing by the Oilers. Klingler would rally the team to a 3-13 finish. Shula was beaten by his dad 23-7 in Week 5. In 1994 they once again started poorly, going 0-8 and finishing 3-13, one game better than the awful Oilers. They also once again lost to the Dolphins that season in Shula Bowl II.

Tipping Point: It is difficult to pinpoint one signature moment that ruined Shula's fortunes. In 1995 they drafted Ki-Jana Carter out of Penn State. Shula coached them to a respectable 7-9 season. In 1996 the team once again looked poised to disappoint, starting 1-6. Jeff Blake had replaced Klingler at QB, but the results were the same and Cincinnati fired Shula after a Week 8 loss to San Francisco. The drafts of Carter and Klingler, neither of whom lasted, showed that Shula could not evaluate talent, certainly not at the level of his dad. The pathetic roster management was considered the worst feature of the Shula regime in Cincinnati and by the time he was fired the team was scarcely a shadow of Wyche's.

Outcome and Legacy: The Bengals would not be a competitive team again until 2003 when Marvin Lewis was hired. With Carson Palmer, TJ Houshmanzadeh and Chad Johnson on the roster they once again became a power in the AFC North. Dave Shula left football and joined his father's steakhouse business. In contrast to Don Shula, who remains the winningest head coach in the NFL, Dave Shula was the fastest coach to lose 50 games.

Record: 19-52 Winning Percentage: .268

Dave Campo -- Dallas Cowboys (2000-02)



Not even Campo could believe he got more than two seasons in Big D.

Qualifications: Dave Campo entered the coaching profession in 1971 at Central Connecticut, and was hired by Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson during their maiden season in 1989. He stuck to the defensive side of the ball and became DC in 1995. The Cowboys promoted him to head coach after firing Chan Gailey. Gailey had been the first coach hired by Jones to have NFL experience. The Cowboys in 2000 were an aging, deteriorating bunch, with QB Troy Aikman suffering from concussion effects and both WR Michael Irvin and CB Deion Sanders leaving.

Performance: Campo's team was a wreck to begin with losing 41-14 to the Eagles. The Cowboys would finish the season 5-11 and 4th in the NFC East, which was increasingly controlled by New York and Philadelphia. They also were obliterated 27-0 on the road in Baltimore, and the infamous Terrell Owens star celebration occurred in a loss to the 49ers. At one point former Eagles star Randal Cunningham filled in for the injured Aikman. Aikman would retire in the off-season, and the Cowboys drafted Quincy Carter out of Georgia.

Tipping Point: Campo had few bright spots in his three seasons, although he had a good record against Washington. In 2002 the Cowboys were featured on NFL Hard Knocks. Many view that exhibition as a symbol of how the team remained arrogant in spite of having fallen so far. This was proven in Week 1 of that season they lost to the Houston Texans, making them the only expansion team to win their first game. Campo guided the Cowboys to their third consecutive 5-11 season. Although Cowboys fans (like myself) find ourselves frustrated by the current bumbling of Jason Garrett, it looks mild in comparison to those days. Campo was replaced by Bill Parcells who immediately made the team competitive again.

Record: 15-33 Winning Percentage: .313

Bobby Petrino -- Atlanta Falcons (2007)



In the annals of scum, Bobby Petrino has made his mark permanent when he abandoned the Falcons as well as all the teams he's coached since then. Say thanks Rod Marinelli, because he took your spot on this list out of pure convenience.

Qualifications: Prior to taking the head coaching post in Atlanta, it was possible to say that he was the model of a Cinderella success story. Petrino had been a quarterback at Division III Carroll College in Montana and was granted a graduate assistant job. From there he progressed up the college ranks, earning jobs with minor Division I programs such as Weber State and Idaho. Finally in 1992 he was named QB coach at Arizona state. After a few more stops he was named OC at Louisville, then earned his NFL job as QB and later OC in Jacksonville between 1999 and 2001, before going to Auburn as an OC. In 2003 Louisville gave him his big shot naming him their HC, and he proved himself by transforming the Cardinals into Division I-A's top offensive attack, a worthy accomplishment for a school that was then in Conference USA. In 2006, the Cardinals won the Orange Bowl giving them their first win in a BCS game and a no. 5 ranking in the final AP Poll.

The Falcons seemed to be a perfect fit for an aggressive offensive coach, having Michael Vick at quarterback. Jim Mora had led them to their first NFC South title in 2004, their first division crown since 1998. But the next two seasons were mediocre with the Falcons earning 8-8 and 7-9 records. Mora was judged to be an average coach who couldn't redeem the potential of the Falcons' immensely talented roster.

Performance: Petrino's goals were immediately stunted by the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal, and the Falcons had to make do with Detroit reject Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich, and Chris Redman. The aging Warrick Dunn was the starting halfback. This was especially problematic due to the Falcons being a pass-oriented offense, as they had both Roddy White and Joe Horn as primary receivers. The defense also had steady talent with Pro Bowlers DeAngelo Hall (yeah, him) and Lawyer Milloy at corner back and tackle monster Keith Brooking at linebacker.

The season got off to a rocky start when Petrino's offense barely registered during a 24-3 defeat at Minnesota. The Falcons would only earn their first win in Week 4 against Houston at home beating recently departed backup Matt Schaub.

Tipping Point: The Falcons continued to rack up losses against Tennessee, the Giants, and New Orleans. After the bye in Week 8 they were able to rack up two wins against Carolina and the sinking Mike Nolan Niners. But thereafter they would be flattened in three consecutive games. In Week 14 Atlanta returned to the Georgia Dome to face the Saints. They were 3-9, out of the playoff race, and by now Redman was starting in place of both Leftwich and Harrington. The fans were treated to another hapless game, as Marques Colston and Drew Brees shredded what was supposed to be a great secondary. The crowning score actually came on a Roman Harper interception of Redman for a touchdown.

Unbeknownst to Falcons owner Arthur Blank and his own players and staff, Bobby Petrino had been negotiating all along with the University of Arkansas to become their next head coach. Following the New Orleans debacle, players showed up one morning to find form letters taped to their lockers from Coach Petrino. Instead of a rousing message, they contained a brief and cursory notification that he had resigned his position in Atlanta. Of his five year, $24 million contract Petrino had completed 13 games, which comes out to a paltry 16% of the full term. He was announced as HC in Fayetteville, Ark. to the obnoxious cheers of "Pig, sooey!". Atlanta was now completely decapitated, having lost its star QB in the off-season, played with three different ones during up until then, and now being ditched by their head coach. Emmitt Thomas finished the year in place of Petrino, and they would finish the year 4-12 with a final victory against Seattle.

Outcome and Legacy:

The fallout of this betrayal was expected to wreck the Falcons organization for years. As this was happening, it was still not known how long Michael Vick would be in prison, or whether he would ever return to football. Petrino's actions had served to transform a very competitive team into one that seemed on the verge of implosion. Unexpectedly, new Head Coach Mike Smith was able to hit the jackpot with 3rd overall pick Matt Ryan at quarterback. Ryan led Atlanta to an 11-5 record in 2008, and new running back Michael Turner had a breakout season with 1,699 yards. The Falcons between 2006 and 2008 might as well have been three completely different teams.

As for Petrino, his travails are among the most well-documented in the past few years of sports media. At Arkansas he compiled an impressive 34-17 record and made the Razorbacks a force to be reckoned with. He was eventually forced to resign in 2012 after trying to cover up a motorcycle accident involving himself and a coed intern who at the time was also carrying on an illicit affair with him. The press conference and public chess match between him and the truth led to Petrino being fired for cause. Western Kentucky hired him in 2013 after only one season out of coaching, and gave him a four year contract. Is anyone surprised that last week Petrino ditched WKU in favour of his old digs at Louisville? Petrino's 83-30 college record has proven that he can guide winners. His track record of wandering from team to team and his tasteless behaviour ensure that none of those wins will clear his reputation.

Record: 3-10 Winning Percentage: .231

Lane Kiffin and Tom Cable -- Oakland Raiders (2007-10)

and Owner Al Davis



Qualifications: It seems that Al Davis never could strike gold after his boneheaded trade of John Gruden to Tampa. Kiffin was a successful Offensive Coordinator at Southern Cal from 2005-06, and he helped propel the Trojans to the top of the Pac 10 for what would end up being seven consecutive years. Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart both played during Kiffins time there, and at the time he was considered a stronger head coaching candidate than his superior, Pete Carroll. His father was then Tampa Bay Buccaneers DC Monte Kiffin, but Lane Kiffin's focus on the offensive side of the ball showed that he wasn't a product of nepotism.

Tom Cable was about as different from Kiffin as one could imagine, as he had been a failed head coach for the University of Idaho Vandals, and interestingly was the head coach of the rival UCLA Bruins while Kiffin was at USC. The Raiders hired Kiffin as their head coach after dumping Art Shell for the second time when he went 2-14. Cable was hired as his offensive line coach

Performance: Immediately Davis committed a major error by drafting JaMarcus Russell first overall. Russell held out until December, dooming the Raiders for the 2007 season. They were humiliated at one point to the tune of 49-11 in Jacksonville. Kiffin's team also continued the Raiders' long trend of earning numerous dumb penalties, including one where the now over-the-hill Warren Sapp was penalized three times for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected. Kiffin was not to blame for the Russell situation, but overall the locker room did not seem to yield to his authority as Davis was seen as the real power.

Tipping Point: For Kiffin the relationship with Davis reportedly soured immediately following the end of the 2007 season, and later it would be alleged that he was told to resign. Yet Kiffin remained at the beginning of 2008 and led the team onto the field for the Week 1 home opener where Denver completely owned them 41-14. The next week they traveled to Kansas City and won 23-8. After a Week 3 last minute defeat at Buffalo, the first rumours of Davis firing Kiffin began, at the time untrue. The firing only came after a Week 4 home loss to San Diego, when Kiffin was fired by phone that Tuesday.

Cable took over and led the team to a 5-11 record. It was clear from the get-go that Cable was not viewed as a permanent fix, as he had been only an offensive line coach. Furthermore, he publicly accused Kiffin of poaching his coaching staff in order to hire people for his next job at Tennessee. Cable would be embroiled in scandals involving both an assault against one of his staff, and two domestic violence cases involving his ex-wife and girlfriend. In spite of his questionable behaviour, Cable was able to steadily improve the Raiders, starting at 4-8 during the remainder of 2008 and finishing 2010 with a relatively good 8-8 record. True to form, Davis still canned him and then his replacement Hue Jackson.

Outcome and Legacy: How much of this was Davis and how much of it was his coaches? Kiffin clearly did not have what it took to make the Raiders competitive with Norv Turner's Chargers. Cable may have been an adequate coach, but it may be that the public knows only a small part of the dark side of his personality due to all criminal charges against him being waved. ESPN's Outside the Lines interviewed his former wife and ex-girlfriend, showing that Cable's violent behaviour against assistant Randy Hanson may have been just the latest in numerous violent incidents.

Kiffin record: 5-15 Winning Percentage: .250

Cable record: 17-27 Winning Percentage: .386

Pat Shurmur -- Cleveland Browns (2011-2012)

and President Mike Holmgren, GM Tom Heckert, and anyone else involved



Not even Shurmur could put a smile on these two years.

Qualifications: A lot of coaches in Cleveland could be in this list; our city is the graveyard for coaching careers. And people give me flack for rooting for another team. In fact, with every coaching nightmare comes the attendant excuses: Chris Palmer had to lead an horrific expansion roster, for example. Many lists would include Eric Mangini as the Browns' representative, and not his successor Shurmur. And the guy who came after Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski, was recently fired after only one stinking season.

Shurmur's hiring, however, stands out for being as inexcusable as anyone on this page except for Dave Shula. His previous experience involved coaching jobs at Michigan State and Stanford, most of which was offensive line work. In 1999 he was hired by Philadelphia to be Tight Ends and OL coach, and in 2002 he was promoted to QB coach. HC Andy Reid retained OC Marty Mornhinweg for most of those years, and in 2009 Shurmur was hired as offensive coordinator for new St. Louis skipper Steve Spagnuolo. The Rams were appalling that first year, going 1-15, but they did rally the next year to go 7-9 with rookie QB Sam Bradford. On the other hand, the statistics show that the Rams had the 29th ranked scoring scoring offense in 2010, notwithstanding Bradford's progress.

The Browns had fired Mangini after granting him a grace year in 2010 in order to impress new team President Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert. That duo of executives were meant to be the proactive contrast from team owner Randy Lerner who had been passive to the point of almost provoking fan walkouts in 2009. It was at one point brought up that Holmgren may have taken a liking to Shurmur due to his uncle Fritz having been one of his assistants over a decade earlier in Green Bay. Holmgren had also attempted to take the top executive role in Seattle and for a time had them play at the top flight of the league with Matt Hasselbeck. Shurmur, like both Reid and Reid's mentor Mike Holmgren, were advocates of the West Coast Offense.

Performance: The Shurmur era began under a cloud of uncertainty when the NFL and the Players Association dragged their negotiations through the entire off-season. Under those conditions, the Browns' staff was prohibited from having any contact with players, and teams could not pursue free agents. Team QB Colt McCoy, a 2nd year veteran out of Texas led a group of players in off-season training at "Camp Colt".

As that first season jerked to a start belatedly, it was clear that the lack of training camp was especially affecting the Browns, many of whom met Shurmur for the first time in mid-August rather than in July. Brad Childress was chosen to replace the awful Brian Daboll at OC, as the Browns hoped to improve from having the 32nd and 29th ranked offense in 2009-10. The Browns were able to win in Week 3 against Daboll's new team, Miami, largely due to their defense. However, they were clearly inept on offense, as exhibited by a 13-12 loss at St. Louis. In that game Shurmur failed to solve his old team's defense. He called a run in the red zone to TE Alex Smith that was fumbled. The play would come to symbolize his 4-12 (0-6 vs division) rookie season and his poor management of red zone situations.

Tipping Point: Shurmur needed a passer with pinpoint accuracy in order to implement his West Coast scheme, and during his first season he had McCoy who had been developed as a short passer both in Texas and under Mangini. McCoy and his folks had a very public spat with the Browns during the 2011 season when he was improperly treated for a concussion. In the 2012 Draft they had the 4th overall pick as well as the 22nd pick acquired from Atlanta. In a draft class famous for having yielded QBs Russel Wilson, Andrew Luck, Kirk Cousins, and Robert Griffin III, the Browns chose Alabama RB Trent Richardson (4) and Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden (22). Both moves were criticized, particularly picking Weeden who had appeared in college late due to a minor league baseball career. Another criticism of Weeden as a Browns player was that he was known to have a rocket arm, which is not necessary for the short passing of the West Coast Offense.

In practice the new Browns offense was more of the same, as Shurmur frequently failed to call plays in a timely manner thus incurring time out usage as well as delays of game. They had several embarrassing losses including a 41-27 thrashing by the Giants on the road and a 28-21 defeat to the Redskins at home in Kirk Cousins' debut in place of the injured Griffin. Even the games where the Browns played surprisingly well seemed to end in disappointment: They led Dallas for most of their Week 11 game, yet the lead seesawed in the second half. Dallas was able to muster a last minute drive to tie the game at 20 before winning in overtime on a field goal. Shurmur finished the season with three consecutive defeats to the Redskins, Broncos, and Steelers and was promptly fired on Black Monday.

Outcome and Legacy: During the 2012 season the Browns were sold in an ill-timed transaction between Randy Lerner and Jim Haslam. This was a grim tiding for Holmgren and his entire regime. They had clearly mismanaged every decision, from retaining Mangini in 2010 to hiring Shurmur, to neglecting McCoy, to drafting Richardson and Weeden. Shurmur was obviously in over his head during many games when he seemed indecisive. Also, both he and Holmgren became quite testy and hostile to the media and by extension the public during their tenure. Holmgren famously declared that once the ship was turned around he would remember what every media reporter had said once they came begging for playoff tickets.

During that 2012 season Haslam publicly broke with Holmgren and phased him out, finally firing him, Heckert, and Shurmur by season's end. In September 2013 Trent Richardson was traded to the Colts, and Weeden was sacked as starter that same week in favour of former Steelers backup Brian Hoyer. And Shurmur's successor Rob Chudzinski? He was fired at the end of that season after only one year proving that perhaps Holmgren's poor hiring sense had rubbed off on Haslam.

Record: 19-23 Winning Percentage: .0.282

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