Fourteen times this century, NFL franchises have hired a first year head coach who didn’t last more than one season (in two cases they didn’t last for a full season). However, only twice has that coach been a first time NFL head coach. First let’s look at the other twelve and then we can discuss the first timers.
Marty Schottenheimer had been a long time NFL head coach for the Browns and the Chiefs when he stepped away from the NFL for two seasons. He was lured back to the NFL coaching ranks by the villain known as Dan Snyder to coach Washington. Marty led the team to an 8-8 record, but there was friction with the owner almost from the jump and Marty was canned after the 2001 season. He was then snatched up by the Chargers who he guided to three winning seasons in five years before he finally retired after the 2006 season (when they went 14-2). Snyder’s decision to fire Marty was made to look even worse by both Marty’s success with the Chargers and the comical Steve Spurrier era that followed in Washington.
Hall of Famer player, Art Shell, had two stints as the head coach of the Raiders. During his first stint he led them to winning season in five of six years, but when he returned to being a head coach after twelve seasons away from it (many spent as an OL coach in the NFL), the game had passed him by. The Hall of Fame player was unable to get anything out of the moribund franchise that he loved and they finished the 2006 season 2-14, the mirror opposite of what Marty had gotten out of the Chargers during his last season as an NFL HC. Shell officially retired from coaching after that season. The Raiders went 0-6 against the AFC West in 2006.
The 2007 NFL season saw two head coaches get canned after one year, but we’ll save the story of Bobby Petrino for later. Cam Cameron had been the OC under Marty in San Diego and he used that success to land the head coaching job with the Dolphins in 2007. The supposed offensive guru led the Phins to finish the season 26th in scoring with a 1-15 overall record as he decided that he didn’t need and offensive coordinator to call the plays (where have I heard that before?). The 2007 Dolphins were one of those somewhat rare NFL teams that is/was terrible on both offense AND defense as they finished 30th in points allowed. Cameron was fired after the season and spent the next five seasons as the OC in Baltimore. He was the OC for them when Rahim Moore gifted them a Super Bowl victory by misplaying a Hail-Mary pass. Cameron has never gotten a head coach position at any level since he was fired by Miami.
Jim Mora Jr is the son of former NFL head coach Jim Mora. Junior was the head coach of the Falcons from 2004 to 2006 and led them to two winning seasons. He was let go by the Falcons and “recycled” as the Seahawks head coach in 2009 after spending two season as assistant head coach and secondary coach. Mora’s Seahawks finished 5-11 and his defense was not very good (24th in points allowed) so he was let go and Seattle hired the recently disgraced former head coach from the University of Spoiled Children, Pete Carroll.
The 2012 season was another season where there were two one-and-done NFL head coaches. Both Mike Mularkey and Romeo Crennel had previously been NFL head coaches. Mularkey for the Bills for two seasons (one winning season) and Crennel for the Browns. Mularkey was hired by the Jags who had fired Jack of the River during the latter part of the 2011 season. Their interim head coach, Mel Tucker, did not get the head job despite leading the Jags to a 2-3 record after Del Rio’s firing. Mularkey “led” the Jags to a 2-14 record and that was enough to get him canned after the season. One reason the Jags finished 2-14 was that they had the worst offense in the NFL in 2012 scoring only 15.9 points per game or 1.6 more than the Denver Broncos are currently scoring.
Crennel is debatable as to whether or not he should be included here. Like Mel Tucker above he was the interim head coach of the Chiefs in 2011 after Handshake Haley was fired, but unlike poor Mel, Romeo got the nod as the full-time head coach in KC for the 2012 season. Like Mularkey he “led” the Chiefs to a 2-14 finish in 2012 as the head coach AND defensive coordinator. Via a tie-breaker over the Jags the Chiefs got the #1 overall pick in 2013. Romeo got no love and was fired after the 2012 season opening the spot for the Walrus to move to the town that thinks it has better ribs than Memphis.
The next season had another one-and-done, Rob Chudzinski. Rob had spent the 2004, 2007 and 2008 seasons as the OC for the Browns. IN between he was the tight end coach under Marty in San Diego. As the OC in Charlotte in 2011 and 2012 he was responsible for crafting an offense in Charlotte to fit the talents of #1 overall draft pick, Cam Newton. His “success” as an OC landed him the head coaching job with the Browns, which is akin to being the drummer for Spinal Tap. Rob’s Browns did what the Browns do, they lost plenty of games, finishing the season 4-12, but the Browns had started the season 4-5 and then proceeded to lose their last 7. This was too much for the owners to take so Rob got the boot. Strangely he landed in Indy where he helped to craft an offense for #1 overall pick, Andrew Luck. Rob held a number of positions with the Colts including OC in 2016 and 2017. Rob took a break from coaching for a bit and has been a part of the Boston College coaching staff since 2020.
The NFL did not have another one-and-done until 2015. Jim Harbaugh had turned the 49ers into a dumpster fire before he was shown the door in 2014 and Jim Tomsula was in-house and chosen to try and put out the fire. Tomsula had actually been their interim head coach, like Crennel, back in 2010 after the 49ers fired Mike Singletary before the final game of the season. Tomsula didn’t get the full-time job then though, Harbaugh did, and Jim was hired by Jim to be the defensive line coach.
Tomsula was in over his head having only ever having been a head coach once before (for the Rhein Fire). The 49ers defense was ok in 2015 (18th in points allowed), but the offense was atrocious (dead last in scoring - 14.9 ppg or 0.3 points per game more than Denver is currently scoring). The 49ers finished the season 5-11 and Tomsula was fired as the head coach. The 49ers then proceeded to hire Chip Kelly who had been fired by the Eagles with one game remaining in the 2015 season. Instead of righting the ship, Kelly proceeded to make more holes in the boat. The 49ers under Kelly would finish the 2016 with a 2-14 record and Kelly would be axed immediately after the season. Kelly would then head back to the college ranks from whence he came. Kelly actually became an NFL head coach with the Eagles after having zero NFL coaching experience. This is generally a recipe for disaster. Steve Spurrier, Chip Kelly, Matt Rhule and Urban Meyer were all disasters, although Rhule technically had one season of NFL coaching experience as the assistant OL coach for the Giants in 2012.
The only NFL head coach this century who had zero (or almost zero) NFL coaching experience prior to taking this NFL gig AND has been moderately successful is Kliff Kingsbury; he actually took over for another one-and-done head coach, Steve Wilks. Wilks, who is a genuinely nice guy (I’ve met him), began his coaching career at J.C. Smith U. in Charlotte where a friend and teammate of mine from high school played. Wilks was the DC there in 1995 and 1996. Wilks spent one season as the head coach of Savannah St. and then moved up to the BCS before landing his first NFL job as the secondary coach for Washington in 2005. Wilks got the head coaching job in Arizona when Bruce Arians retired (the first time) in 2017. Wilks had been the Panthers’ assistant head coach for three seasons under Ron Rivera and was also the DC for the Panthers in 2017.
Wilks season in Arizona was not good as the Cardinals over-drafted Josh Rosen and rode the overmatched rookie QB to a 3-13 record. To this point Rosen has not gotten another full-time starting gig at QB in the NFL and Wilks had not gotten another HC gig, although he is currently the interim HC for the Panthers after they fired Matt Rhule. A theme that seems to run through all of these one-and-done firings is that the offensive or defensive minded HC has a terrible offense (if Off.-minded) or defense (if Def.-minded). Wilks was no different as the Cardinals in 2018 were 26th in points allowed. Of course it didn’t help that they were dead last in scoring (14.1 ppg, which is actually less than the Broncos are currently scoring. Hazzah!)
2019 had another one-and-done, Freddie Kitchens with the Browns. Kitchens got the Browns job when former Raiders head coach, Hue Jackson, was fired after a 7-8-1 season. Apparently 7-8-1 was not good enough after 0-16 the previous year, so Jackson got canned. But, hey, the Browns gonna Brown. Kitchens had been the OC under Jackson in 2018. He won the HC job and hired Steve Wilks as his DC. The Browns regressed a little in 2019 going 6-10 despite having the #1 overall draft pick, Baker Mayfield, at QB. The 2019 Browns were 6-7 with three games left to play and could have gotten a playoff berth with a strong finish, but they lost the last three games by big margins and weren’t really competitive in any of them. Kitchens was replaced by Kevin Stefanski who is still the head coach in Cleveland. With twelve different head coaches this century the Browns are only eclipsed by the Faiders who have had 13.
There were no one-and-done head coaches in the NFL in 2020, but there were two last season - David Culley and Urban Meyer. We’ll discuss Culley first and then talk about Meyer when we are talking about Petrino.
Culley had been the AHC for the Chiefs and the Ravens before he got his first chance at a “solo flight”. Culley took over a Texans franchise that had fired Bill O’Brien four games into the 2020 season and then had been coached by Crennel in his NFL record third gig as an interim head coach. The Texans under Culley were deprived of their starting QB because of his legal troubles with sexual assault claims and subsequently their offense was poor - finishing 30th in the NFL in scoring. Their defense was also bad (27th) and they ended the season with a 4-13 record. This led to Culley’s firing and the hiring on “retread” head coach, Lovie Smith, who had previously been the HC for the Bears and the Bucs.
So all the rest of the other one-and-done guys that we are talking about were given a full season to fail before they were canned, but Petrino and Meyer didn’t finish their first season leading the Falcons and the Jags. Officially Petrino resigned as the head coach of the Falcons to take the head coaching job with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Apparently Petrino didn’t have the fortitude to tell the Falcons players that he was leaving in person. He did so with a letter. Yikes! Petrino left after the 13th game of the season. Petrino, unlike Meyer, had some NFL experience having spent two seasons as the QB coach and one season as the OC in Jacksonville (with the Jags, not with the Dolphins of Jacksonville U.).
Apparently Petrino and Meyer are both known in the college football world as “not-nice-people” as this article shows. Petrino’s strange departure from the Falcons and hiring by the Razorbacks (less than 24 hours later) helped to draw attention away from the shady stuff that came to light about Meyer during the latter days of his time as the head ball coach for the Gators.
The character flaws that are overlooked because a man is a “defensive genius” or “offensive guru” never ceases to amaze me. Both Petrino and Meyer had many warning signs that were ignored before they were hired as head coaches in the NFL. Meyer had no NFL coaching experience. There is a theory that if Meyer had spent any time in the NFL prior to the 2021 season, his character flaws would have prevented his hire by the struggling
London Jacksonville Jaguars.
The final straw for Meyer in Jacksonville was taped dirty dancing with a woman who’s not his wife at his steakhouse after his team flew home following a loss amid a losing streak. Meyer stayed in Ohio (he owns a restaurant and a pub in Columbus). Meyer also had plenty of other missteps that were chronicled here and here and many other places. Meyer was fired after “leading” the Jags to a 2-11 record where there were dead last in scoring and 28th in points allowed. The 2021 Jags finished the season scoring 14.9 ppg (or 0.6 more than the Broncos are currently scoring).
Apparently using the #1 overall pick on QB and then having the worst or one of the worst offenses in the league is a fire-able offense (pun intended) if you are an “offensive guru”.
While the Broncos didn’t spend the first overall pick in the draft on a QB, the team did just give Russell Wilson a large contract (before he played a down for Denver) with the expectation that pairing him with offensive mastermind Nathaniel Hackett was going to lead to somewhere around twice as many points per game as the Broncos are currently scoring.
If the Broncos lose in London, should they fire Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett?
This poll is closed
If the Bronco offense continues embarrass itself each week, I think Hackett’s firing becomes inevitable. I think he could save his job if the Bronco offense finds its ability to score touchdowns in the final ten games of the season.
What’s at the root of the problems for offense?
This poll is closed
Play calling with no rhyme or reason
Players not executing
Not enough talent on the roster
If the firing becomes a foregone conclusion, I will do a deep historical dive on what effect that has on a team’s record the season after firing a one-and done HC this century.