In 1969, Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull co-authored a satirical book titled ?The Peter Principle,? in which they outlined the idea that in an business organization?s hierarchy, previously competent employees will be promoted upwards until a point at which they?ve risen to a position for which they are no longer competent.
Or, as Peter would put it: ?In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.?
In terms of NFL head coaches, consider the following list as Exhibits #1 through #13 of the aforementioned ?Peter Principle.? These are the guys who were elevated to a position for which, as history would tell us, they were grossly unqualified.
Presenting, for your reading pleasure: the 12 worst head coaches in NFL history (who coached at least 10 games), ranked in order of career winning percentage.
Career Winning Percentage: 0.275
If I?m being totally honest: I bumped this list up to 12 entries, just so I could include Frank Kush.
On one hand, you could point to the fact that Frank Kush has the worst winning percentage (0.275) of any coach in the history of the Colts’ franchise who coached at least 30 games as being sufficient justification for inclusion on this list.
But to make matters worse: Kush was one of the biggest reasons why John Elway famously play for Baltimore (where the team was located at the time) if they drafted him with the #1 overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft. The Elway’s (both John and his father Jack) wanted no part of Kush’s militaristic coaching style, which came as a result of Kush’s time in the army.
Clearly, that style of coaching wasn’t suited for the NFL overall, given that Kush won a grand total of 11 games over the course of three NFL seasons.
11. Kevin Gilbride
Career Winning Percentage: 0.272
Kevin Gilbride?s NFL coaching career ? both as an assistant or as a head coach ? can be well described by the old Western film ?The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.?
As an offensive coordinator with the New York Giants, Gilbride won two Super Bowl rings in his team?s two upsets over the New England Patriots. Of course, Gilbride is also the guy whom Buddy Ryan tried to punch, when they were assistant coaches with the Houston Oilers.
But Gilbride also served as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers in 1997 and 1998, when he finished with a 6?26 record over two seasons and, despite being an offensive-minded coach, oversaw offenses that finished in the bottom quarter of the league in basically every metric.
(? of course, that latter fact was certainly exacerbated by that bonafide winner standing next to Gilbride, above).
10. David Shula
Career Winning Percentage: 0.267
Just because your dad was one of the greatest head coaches in NFL history doesn?t mean you?re going to inherit the same level of success by genetics alone.
David Shula is the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Don Shula and brother of fellow football coach Mike Shula. But, he hasn?t come close to the success that either of them enjoyed as coaches. In 1992, Shula was named head coach of the Bengals. But him being one of the youngest individuals to earn said title clearly showed (he was only 32 at the time), as the team netted a 19?52 record over his four and a half years at the helm.
After leaving football, Shula joined the family steakhouse business in 1997 and has helped expand the franchise internationally.
9. Lane Kiffin
Career Winning Percentage: 0.250
Arguably the most punchable coach in recent (if not all-time) NFL history. Can you honestly think of a coach you?d want to punch in the face ? just because ? more than Lane Kiffin?
Regardless, five years after losing Super Bowl XXXVII, legendary owner Al Davis believed he had found the next great coach of the Oakland Raiders when he hired 31-year-old Kiffin. And in vintage fashion for Davis, he not only soured on the head-strong Kiffin in less than two years? time, but made a total public spectacle of Kiffin?s firing just four games into Kiffin?s second season in Oakland.
In Davis? defense, Kiffin had a 5?15 record when he was dismissed. Of course, Kiffin continues to maintain that he was forced to coach a quarterback (Jamarcus Russell) whom he didn?t want, and would become one of the biggest NFL Draft busts in history.
T-7. Bobby Petrino
Career Winning Percentage: 0.231
Bobby Petrino might very well be the only head coach in NFL history to have one of his own assistants come out and publicly call him both ?a coward? and ?a gutless [expletive].?
On December 10, 2007, with his Atlanta Falcons at the bottom of the NFC South with a 3?10 record, Petrino resigned to become head coach at Arkansas, less than 24 hours after personally promising owner Arthur Blank that he was staying in Atlanta.
Petrino informed his players of his departure via a four-sentence laminated note left at the locker of each player, a move that many in the organization harshly criticized with the aforementioned terms.
In a totally unrelated note: no confirmation of whether the ?Wooo Pig Sooie? chant Petrino led at Arkansas, after unceremoniously bailing on Atlanta, is synonymous with Petrino?s reputation in the coaching community.
T-7. Lou Holtz
Career Winning Percentage: 0.231
An often overlooked example of college head coaches who were total failures at the professional level, Lou Holtz is forever beloved in South Bend, Indiana as a coach who led the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to a National Championship.
But in the NFL? No such luck.
Holtz?s lone foray into the professional ranks began when he was appointed as head coach of the New York Jets on February 10, 1976. He resigned ten months later on December 9th, with the Jets at 3?10 and one game remaining in the 1976 season.
Upon his departure, he lamented, ?God did not put Lou Holtz on this earth to coach in the pros.? Of course, that?s probably because God has A LOT of other more important things to worry about, besides Holtz? NFL coaching career (or total lack thereof).
Anyway, Holtz never again coached in the NFL.
6. Gus Bradley
Career Winning Percentage: 0.225
The coaching career trajectory of Gus Bradley Jr. has proven one thing: he?s an excellent defensive coach, and very likely nothing more than that.
As the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks between 2009 and 2012, he played a major role in constructing the great Seattle defenses the early 2010?s. Hoping to bring that tough mindset down south, the Jacksonville Jaguars hired him to be their head coach. But in his four seasons as the coach of the Jaguars, Bradley never won more than five games, and finished with a .313 or lower winning percentage in each of those years.
He didn?t even make it to the end of his fourth season before being fired.
5. Dennis Allen
Career Winning Percentage:0.222
The image above could easily be a still shot from one of those movie scenes that starts with a record scratch, and starts with the narrator saying ?Yeah, that?s me. You?re probably wondering how I got here.?
After cycling through five head coaches in the six years prior, the latest stop on the coaching carousel of the Oakland Raiders in the early 2000?s landed on Dennis Allen, who had all of one year?s worth of coordinator experience in the NFL, when he oversaw a Denver Broncos? defense that was in the bottom 10 in the NFL in yards allowed. Things went about as well as one would?ve imagined, given the benefit of hindsight. In his first two years as the head man in Oakland, Allen won a grand total of eight games ? four games in each of his first two seasons.
Four games into his third season with the Raiders, after starting the season with an 0?4 record, he was dismissed as head coach.
4. Steve Spagnuolo
Career Winning Percentage: 0.211
Can you imagine how much Marv Levy must hate Steve Spagnuolo? Levy is a Hall of Fame head coach who never won a Super Bowl ring, while Spagnuolo is one of the worst head coaches in NFL history, and yet he still has three Super Bowl rings.
After overseeing a New York Giants? defense that helped orchestrate one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history, Spagnuolo became the hottest head coaching during the 2008 offseason, the (then) St. Louis Rams won the ?race? to secure Spagnuolo?s services as their next head coach? but that?s about the only winning they would enjoy for the foreseeable future. In three seasons as the Rams? head coach, Spagnuolo won a grand total of 10 out of a possible 48 games, finishing with a 1?15 record in 2009 (the worst record in Rams? franchise history) and a 2?14 record in 2011.
When the Rams dismissed him at the end of the 2011 season, he had compiled the second-lowest winning percentage for a non-interim coach in franchise history.
3. Rod Marinelli
Career Winning Percentage: 0.208
Make no mistake: Rod Marinelli is one hell of a defensive coach, and perhaps one of the best defensive line coaches in the history of the game.
But as Marinelli ? among many others ? proved, there?s a huge difference between being an assistant coach and the head coach. For all of the success he enjoyed as an assistant coach alongside Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin in Tampa Bay, he clearly was overmatched when elevated to the head position himself.
Case in point? If you?re one of the three head coaches in NFL history to lead your NFL team to a completely winless season, you?re unfortunately going to make this list.
2. Hue Jackson
Career Winning Percentage: 0.196
Surprised that Hue Jackson is not dead last on this list? I am, too!!
Asking for a particular piece of evidence of why Jackson is easily one of the worst NFL head coaches in NFL history is like asking someone to choose their favorite Thanksgiving side dish: how can you possibly limit yourself to just one!! Anytime Jackson opened his mouth, you knew something was going to come out that would prove just how incompetent he was.
Jackson?s 3?36?1 record over two-and-a-half seasons with the Cleveland Browns (winning percentage 7.5%) is the worst record that a head coach has recorded while presiding over an NFL team for at least 40 games.
1. Marty Mornhinweg
Career Winning Percentage: 0.156
Marty Mornhinweg didn?t even make it to 40 games as head coach of the Detroit Lions ? mercifully for him, and even more mercifully for fans of the Lions.
As we all know, Mike Holmgren?s ?coaching tree? has gone on to produce several very successful coaches. And as we all know, Mornhinweg ? a former offensive assistant under Holmgren and Andy Reid ? was not one of them. It quickly became very clear to members of the 2001 and 2002 Detroit Lions that the only thing Mornhinweg knew how to do was recycle ideas and concepts he had learned from Holmgren, without actually having any original ideas of his own.
Add in the fact that the Lions did a horrific job with their on-field personnel in his two years there, and it?s not hard to see how or why Mornhinweg finished with a 5?27 record in two seasons in Detroit.
Rajan Nanavati is the editor of HailToTheDistrict.com. You can follow Rajan on Twitter, find the HailToTheDistrict Podcast here, and/or view his writing archives here.