The Worst Head Coaches in Net Expected Points History

Some of these guys still have jobs in the NFL despite having NEP totals on the wrong side of zero. But who is the worst of all?

I’m weirdly on a musical kick right now, though I usually hate musical theatre. I loathe Wicked, I can’t stand Grease -- unless it’s Travolta and Newton-John; c’mon, I have a soul -- and everything about Cats and Starlight Express makes me want to tear my ears off and never hear again.

Avenue Q, however, is my jam. This highly-offensive parody of Sesame Street teaches us all how to love and lose and what to do about the sensitive topics of race and lovemaking. It’s fun for the whole family (read: it’s very adult, please use discretion)!

One of the songs in this show discusses the idea of Schadenfreude, the German concept of happiness at the misfortune of others. They provide examples like clapping when a waitress falls and drops a tray of glasses and like finding it fun to watch figure skaters falling on their -- you get the idea.

In the same way, we all enjoy it a little to see how bad coaches in the NFL perform. There have been some historically bad head coaches in the league, and we can find out exactly who they are through our numberFire metrics. By pulling up Net Expected Points (NEP) data for all 15 years we have had it (since 2000), we can measure exactly how good every head coach in the NFL has been in the new millennium. Who are the worst coaches in NEP history?

Dim Sum

I went into the NEP vaults and matched up every NFL head coach in the last decade and a half with their teams. We measure teams and coaches by both NEP and Defensive NEP, and the most telling version of these is Adjusted NEP -- adjusted for strength of opponent. Which head coaches have had the worst careers by these metrics?

The table below shows the bottom five coaches in the league by their total Adjusted NEP over the course of their careers. Longevity is a test of prowess, as those who have been unable to sustain value on their teams have like gotten fired a long time ago in the “Not For Long” league. NEP is a cumulative metric, so who has struggled the most to achieve the offensive success in their tenures?

RankCoachYearsTeamsAdj. NEP
101Romeo Crennel2005-2008, 2012CLE, KC-386.98
102Mike Nolan2005-2008SF-395.63
103Brian Billick2000-2007BAL-486.87
104Dick Jauron2000-2003, 2006-2009CHI, BUF-709.17
105Lovie Smith2004-2012, 2014CHI, TB-909.62

Our bottom-of-the-barrel offensive Adjusted NEP “champions” are led by legendarily unaware Romeo Crennel, whose mid-2000’s Browns and 2012 Chiefs are two absolute punching bags for awful offenses. Worse still, though, are Mike Nolan’s 49ers, Brian Billick’s Ravens, Dick Jauron’s Bears and Bills. All of these coaches were defensive specialists, but they clearly didn’t compensate for their lack of knowledge on the other side of the ball.

None have been as bad as Lovie Smith, however, whose 10-year career only has the hallmark of atrocious offensive showings. It’s a huge wonder, based on these numbers, that Lovie still has an NFL head coaching job, when his offenses have gained 200 fewer less than the next-worst coach on the list. I almost feel bad for the Bears, as two of their three head coaches in the past fifteen years bring in the last and second-last spots on the list.

The next table flips the script on the sides of the ball. Who accumulated the least total Adjusted Defensive NEP in the last decade and a half? Remember, Defensive NEP describes how few points a defense held a team to; the higher the number (or more positive), the worse it is.

RankCoachYearsTeamsAdj. Def. NEP
101Chan Gailey2010-2012BUF294.06
102Mike Smith2008-2014ATL336.19
103Rod Marinelli2000-2007DET368.86
104Gary Kubiak2000-2003, 2006-2009CHI, HOU378.81
105Sean Payton2006-2014NO566.05

The bottom five in Adjusted Defensive NEP features three out of five offensive-minded coaches. Interestingly enough, two of the coaches at the bottom of these defensive rankings were included in the top five of the offensive Adjusted NEP ranks: Sean Payton and Mike Smith. Smith was truly atrocious as a playcaller for the defense of the Falcons -- despite being a defensive coach -- and it is no wonder why he’s now currently out of a head coaching job. One thing that has always plagued Gary Kubiak’s teams is a solid defense, and Sean Payton, too, has seen some explosive offenses derailed by shoddy play on the other side of the ball.

Average at Best

Raw totals hardly tell the whole tale, however. Some coaches have had much shorter careers and still made a huge impact on their teams and the league as a whole. Averages can also be a great way to assess team production and really break down different sample sizes for coaches’ careers.

The table below shows the average annual Adjusted NEP for each head coach, displayed for each of the bottom five in this category. Who was the least efficient on a per-season basis on offense?

RankCoachYearsTeamsAvg. Adj. NEP
101Steve Spagnuolo2009-2011STL-108.39
102Gus Bradley2013-2014JAX-115.91
103Chris Palmer2000CLE-134.64
104George Seifert2000-2001CAR-147.37
105Art Shell2006OAK-225.66

The bottom-five is a huge exercise in fan futility. The 2006 Raiders behind Art Shell were absolutely atrocious, and quarterbacks Andrew Walter and Aaron Brooks did nothing to help the team, throwing only three touchdown passes all year. The next year, Shell would be out the door. Interestingly, the only coach with three or more years on this list is Steve Spagnuolo, current defensive coordinator for the Giants and former head coach of the Rams. Spag’s star was always hitched to Sam Bradford, the first overall pick in 2010. Bradford since hasn’t panned out, and Spagnuolo was bounced from a head coaching gig.

The final table shows our worst coaches in terms of average Adjusted Defensive NEP. Who has averaged the lowest on the defensive side of the ball in their tenures?

RankCoachYearsTeamsAdj. Def. NEP
101Hue Jackson2011OAK99.47
102Marc Trestman2013-2014CHI100.03
103Vince Tobin2000ARZ112.70
104Jay Gruden2014WAS116.13
105Rod Marinelli2000-2007DET122.95

The worst on this list feature three very good offensive minds and two surprisingly ineffective defensive ones. When Hue Jackson took over in Oakland, it was a total dumpster fire. He was never given a fair shake, so he gets a pass from me here. Marc Trestman should have done better than Mel Tucker as his defensive coordinator in Chicago the last two years, and Jay Gruden got shockingly poor results out of Jim Haslett in Washington. A big thing that teams miss is to hire strong coordinators in the other phases when their head coach focuses so heavily on one part of the game.

The worst of the worst in this category is current Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator and former Detroit Lions head coach Rod Marinelli. Marinelli is a good schemer but a bad team assembler. He brought the Cowboys up from atrociousness this 2014 season, but his early 2000’s Lions were hilariously bad on defense -- to the point that his eight-year career as a head coach couldn’t do anything to help out his average.

The Absolute Worst

So. You want to know who to laugh at the hardest, right? Who is the true laughingstock of the NFL head coaching ranks over the past 15 years?

Romeo Crennel has been one of the worst for so long that he’s certainly a candidate for the title. In an offensive-driven league, a coach who coordinates a mediocre-at-best defense and an atrocious offense is one of the least-valuable over a long period of time. Then there are those who have had spectacularly bad teams over short periods of time, like Chris Palmer of the Browns or Bobby Petrino of the Falcons. It’s tough to decide.

If there was one I’d nominate, it would be Rod Marinelli, formerly of the Detroit Lions. Marinelli had eight years on the job and still couldn’t turn around this mess of a team, actually leading them straight to the bottom of the league before Jim Schwartz took over. He is a defensive guru, but his defenses were actually one of his biggest liabilities. When your cumulative Adjusted NEP scores put you in the bottom five and your average still only elevates you to bottom-10 consideration, that’s pretty bad.

In the words of Puppet Gary Coleman from Avenue Q, “When people see us, they don’t want to be us, and that makes them feel great.” Thanks for that, Mr. Marinelli.