Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve Its History, Promote its Values & Celebrate Excellence Everywhere
Jon Kendle is Director of Archives and Football Information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His biweekly columns tell unique and interesting stories starting from the league’s founding in downtown Canton in 1920 to the present day.
Two head coaches, Dan Quinn of the Atlanta Falcons and Bill O’Brien of the Houston Texans, have been fired through the first eight weeks of the 2020 NFL season. Both coaches had long tenures with their respective clubs before being relieved of their duties midseason.
It is inevitable in such a highly competitive and results-driven profession that more franchises will change their leadership in the coming weeks and months. This can become a vicious cycle of hiring and firing head coaches and general managers year after year for far too many NFL franchises.
Unfortunately, few head coaches get a chance to lead a franchise for as long as Quinn (85 regular-season games) and O’Brien (100 regular-season games) did. Most head coaches are lucky to see Year 2. Below is a list of five of the shortest-tenured head coaches in NFL history.
5. Lane Kiffin (2007-08) Oakland Raiders – 20 games
The honeymoon period for Lane Kiffin and Hall of Fame owner Al Davis didn’t last much past the introductory news conference. Kiffin, at the time, was the youngest head coach in the NFL’s modern era. He and Davis didn’t see eye to eye on much of anything throughout the 2007 season. Oakland finished 4-12, and reports surfaced that Davis tried to get Kiffin to resign on several occasions. Following a 1-3 start in 2008, the Raiders fired Kiffin.
4. Lou Holtz (1976) New York Jets – 13 games
Most people don’t remember Lou Holtz’s one year as an NFL head coach. Hired by the Jets in 1976 after four years as head coach at North Carolina State, Holtz was supposed to restore the Jets to glory. In Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath's swan song year in New York, the Jets fielded the worst defense in football and went 3-11. Holtz resigned before the final loss of the season. He returned to college football, coaching at four universities over 25 years, and earned election into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.
3. Pete McCulley (1978) San Francisco 49ers – 9 games
Prior to being named head coach of the 49ers, Pete McCulley had been an NFL assistant for most of his career. In fact, he had never been a head coach at any level of football. Before the 1978 season, the 49ers traded five draft picks, including a first-rounder, for future Hall of Famer and San Francisco native O.J. Simpson. McCulley was fired after going 1-8. His release would open the door for the new owner, future Hall of Famer Edward DeBartolo Jr., to hire another future Hall of Famer, Bill Walsh, as his next head coach.
2. George Allen (1978) Los Angeles Rams – 2 preseason games
George Allen never had a losing season as an NFL head coach. During his 12-year Hall of Fame career, his overall record was 118-54-5. His second stint with the Rams didn’t go well, however. Shockingly, owner Carroll Rosenbloom let Allen go after two underwhelming preseason games before the 1978 NFL regular season started. He was replaced by defensive coordinator Ray Malavasi, who led the Rams to a 12-4 record with Allen’s roster.
1. Bill Belichick (2000) New York Jets – 0 games (1 day)
For one bizarre day Bill Belichick was the head coach of the Jets. Belichick, New York’s highly touted defensive coordinator, was tabbed to succeed Hall of Famer Bill Parcells when he stepped down in 1999. Strangely, during Belichick’s introductory news conference, he ended up giving an impromptu resignation speech. The Jets and Commissioner Paul Tagliabue agreed Belichick was still under contract. The Patriots ultimately traded a 2000 first-round draft pick to acquire their new head coach from the Jets.