Thursday, February 21, 2013

Top 10 Worst Coaches in New York Sports History (through 2012)

As an Arsenal fan, I've been hearing and reading some portion of the "Gooner" fanbase treating Arsene Wenger as if he is completely responsible for the club's decline.

First of all, the club is not in decline.  Most clubs would consider the last 8 years, trophyless though they are, the most glorious period in their recent history.  Second of all, while he is not above criticism, he is hardly wholly, or even primarily, to blame.

But "The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Arsene Wenger for Arsenal Not Winning a Trophy Since 2005" is a post for another time.

The way his own club's fans -- still a minority, but a very vocal and nasty minority -- have been treating him reminds me of the way some fans around here, in the New York Tri-State Area, have treated some of theirs:

* Allie Sherman of the 1960s Giants: "Goodbye, Allie!"
* Joe Walton of the 1980s Jets: "Joe Must Go!"
* Ray Handley of the early 1990s Giants: "Ray Must Go!"
* Rich Kotite of the mid-1990s Jets: "Fi-re Ko-tite! (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!)"
* Isiah Thomas of the mid-2000s Knicks: "Don't hate the team, hate the coach!"
* Joe Torre of the Yankees in 2006 and '07, easily the closest local parallel to Wenger: "Time to retire, Joe!"
* Willie Randolph of the Mets in 2007 and '08: "Witless Willie, the Yankee!"
* Joe Girardi of the current Yankees: "Burn the binder! (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!)"

Then, of course, there was Leo Durocher, who was loved by Brooklyn Dodger fans and hated by baseball Giant fans when he managed the Dodgers from 1938 to 1948, and then switched to the Giants, and from 1948 to 1955 was loved by Jints fans and hated worse by Bums fans than he ever was by Jints fans.  He was a traitor, a turncoat, a Judas.

But unlike those others, Leo the Lip never had to face his own fans telling him, in the words of the immortal Ralph Kramden, as played on The Honeymooners by real-life Giant fan (though born and raised a Brooklynite) Jackie Gleason, "Get out. Get out! GET OUUUUUUUUT!!

As Ralphie Boy's pal Ed Norton, played by Art Carney, would say, "Shee-eesh! What a grouch!"

Well, you'd be a grouch, too, if you'd had to put up with some of those fans.

I decided to update this list, first made a little over two years ago.

I'm going to limit "history" to 1920 on forward, since we have a much more detailed record of what they've done, and it's also the beginning of baseball's Lively Ball Era, the founding year of the NFL (with the Giants having been founded in 1925), and the first full decade of the NHL (with the Rangers having been founded in 1926).

This exempts the worst manager in Yankee history, statistically speaking, Harry Wolverton, who managed them for just 1 season, 1912, and went 50-102.  Say this for George Steinbrenner: Of all the guys he hired and fired as manager, he didn't allow any of them to stay long enough to do serious damage.

It also exempts, though hardly absolves, Hal Chase, whose fixing of games as Yankee 1st baseman in 1910 led manager George Stallings to tell the owners, "Either he goes, or I go." Since Chase was easily the team's best and most popular player, Stallings was treated like an NBA coach who'd run afoul of the local prima donna player, and sent packing.  And Prince Hal was named manager, for the end of 1910 and all of 1911.  Some great players, such as Rogers Hornsby and Lou Boudreau, were a lot better as managers when they had themselves as players.  Chase the manager didn't do very well with Chase the player, and was fired, for Wolverton.  It would be 1917 before new ownership hired Miller Huggins as the first successful Yankee manager.

Note that these are not necessarily managers (in baseball) or head coaches (in the other sports) who put up losing seasons, but the list also includes those who had presumably good teams that blew it late in the regular season or in the postseason.

Note also that, since they won with the Yankees, Torre and Casey Stengel are excused for their awful performances managing National League teams in New York (both with the Mets, Casey also with the Dodgers).

I'm also limiting this to the 4 major league sports, which means college coaches, the leaders of the WNBA's Liberty and pro soccer's Cosmos, Arrows and MetroStars/Red Bulls are off the hook. (Terry Shea, Craig Littlepage, Mike Jarvis, Pat Coyle, and Juan Carlos Osorio, you can all thank me later.) And expansion-team coaches (such as Casey with the Mets, and those of the early Titans/Jets, Nets, Islanders and Devils) get a free pass, because of the odds being stacked against them.

I could find no Devils coach who lasted long enough to have more than one significant postseason failure without also winning a Stanley Cup, unless you want to count Lou Lamoriello himself, who was a really good coach at Providence College but not at the NHL level.

Not quite making this list is Jerry Manuel, Mets, 2008-10. At 204-213, .489, he wasn't good, but he only had 2 1/2 seasons, and, let's face it, the Torre of 1996-2003 was not going to win a Pennant with what Met general manager Omar Minaya gave Manuel. This also absolves Randolph.

Although I have said on a number of occasions that Rex Ryan has failed as Jet coach, he does, at this point, still have a winning record, 34-30, and he got them to 2 AFC Championship Games.  And, theoretically, he could turn it around.  So let's exempt the 9 current coaches:

* Ryan: Though another losing season in 2013, and he's likely canned, and might make the next edition of the list.
* Girardi: A World Series win means he'll never be on this list.
* Tom Coughlin of the Giants: 2 Super Bowl wins means he'll never be on it.
* Peter DeBoer of the Devils: Getting them from a Playoff miss to 2 wins away from the Stanley Cup in just 1 year should keep him off the list.
* Terry Collins of the Mets: The current team mess is hardly his fault.
* Jack Capuano of the Islanders: Ditto.
* Mike Woodson of the Knicks: The jury is still way out on him.
* P.J. Carlesimo of the Nets: He's done pretty well since taking over from Avery Johnson, who also doesn't make this list.  And...
* John Tortorella of the Rangers: Though, with the talent he's had, he is approaching the list.

10. Allie Sherman, Giants, 1961-68. 57-51-4, .528. Doesn't look like such a bad record, does it? Well, in 1961, he inherited a team that had already been to 3 of the last 5 NFL Championship Games, and had won the title in 1956. He got them back to the title game in each of his first 3 seasons. He lost the 1961 title game to the Green Bay Packers, 37-0 in the snow at Lambeau Field. He lost the 1962 title game to the Packers, 16-7 on a frozen field at Yankee Stadium. The Packers were 13-1 that season. He lost the 1963 title game to the Chicago Bears, 14-10 on a frozen surface at Wrigley Field, with quarterback Y.A. Tittle injured during the game. Can't fault him for any of those losses.

Then everybody seemed to get old at once in 1964, including Tittle and Frank Gifford playing their final seasons. From 1964 onward, he was 24-43-3 for a .364 percentage, and in 1968, the fans at Yankee Stadium sang, "Goodbye, Allie" to the tune of "Good Night, Ladies," a precursor to "Joe Must Go," "Ray Must Go," and "Fi-re Ko-tite! (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!)" Still, Allie did get them to those title games, and he faced a better team each time.

Allie just turned 90.  He was a rare lefthanded quarterback, getting the Philadelphia Eagles to a 2nd place finish in 1944, but he was relegated to backup duty in 1947, and it was Tommy Thompson who, starting that year, got them to 3 straight title games, winning in '48 and '49, neither of which Allie was involved in, because he'd been cut after '47.

9. Mike Milbury, Islanders, 2 terms between 1995 and 1999. 57-112-24, .358. Perhaps his biggest problem was that, at the time, the Atlantic Division had very strong teams in New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, and, sometimes, Madison Square Garden. Or, perhaps, his biggest problem was Islander ownership not having money to spend on good players. Or, perhaps, his biggest problem was that his general manager was an idiot. Who was his general manager? Mike Milbury.  He was, however, a decent player with the Boston Bruins, reaching the 1977 and '78 Stanley Cup Finals.

8. Phil Watson, Rangers, 1955-59. 119-124-52, .492.  Through the 2013 season, he remains the only man to coach the Rangers at least 4 full seasons with an overall losing record. He did, however, win 2 Stanley Cups as a player, with the 1940 Rangers and the 1944 Montreal Canadiens.

7. Alex Webster, Giants, 1969-73. 29-40-1, .420. Allie's replacement had been a very good player, once the G-Men's all-time leading rusher. Maybe putting him on this list is a little harsh, because he didn't have a whole lot to work with.

But no Giant coach who lasted that long had a record that bad. And by the way, Handley went 8-8 his first season, and 6-10 the next, but he was only there for 2 seasons, not long enough to truly do some damage, so he doesn't get on this list. Nor does the other "Must Go" guy, Walton of the 1983-89 Jets: He got them to the Playoffs twice, despite being in the same division at the same time as the Don Shula & Dan Marino Miami Dolphins and a pretty good New England Patriots team coached by Raymond Berry. It was the rise of Marv Levy's Buffalo Bills that really doomed Walton.

6. Isiah Thomas, Knicks, 2006-08. 56-108, .341. Only 2 seasons, so I can't rank him higher. (Or would that be "lower"?) And, let's face it, like Milbury, he had an idiot for a general manager. Of course, like Milbury, his general manager was himself.  But, although he was a true all-time great as a player with the Detroit Pistons, as Knick boss, he was an embarrassment, on the basketball court, in civil court, and in the court of public opinion.

It got so bad that Isaiah Thomas, no relation and with a different spelling, got booed at The Garden when he played there for the Sacramento Kings.  Like former Islander and Toronto Maple Leaf goalie Felix Potvin, who always heard the "Potvin sucks!" chant from Ranger fans, he must have wondered, "What did I do? I've never done anything to these people!"

The true problem was that, as long as Charles Dolan had a job, James Dolan had a job; as long as James had a job, Isiah the GM had a job; and as long as Isiah the GM had a job, Isiah the coach had a job.  Finally, James -- with prodding from Charles, perhaps? -- fired Isiah from both roles.

5. Eddie Donovan, Knicks, 1961-65. 84-194, .302. He was just 43 years old when he left the head coach's post, and never coached another game in the NBA. However, let the record show that, at the time, the NBA's Eastern Division was dominated by Red Auerbach's Boston Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain's Philadelphia Warriors.

Let it also show that Donovan became the team's general manager and, with head coach Red Holzman, built the 1970 and 1973 NBA Champions. So while he's on the list of the Top 10 Worst Coaches, he is also one of the Top 10 Best Executives.

4. Bill Fitch, Nets, 1989-92. 83-163, .337. He won 944 games in NBA regular-season play, which is 8th all-time.  He got the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first-ever Eastern Conference Finals in 1976, won a World Championship with the Boston Celtics in 1981, and got the Houston Rockets to the Finals in 1986, and if the Celtics didn't have one of the best teams ever that season he might've won another title.

But he also lost 1,106 regular-season games, more than any coach before him, and the last 2 NBA teams who thought he could be trusted were the Nets and the Los Angeles Clippers, the 2 "little brother teams." Only in his last season with the Nets did he get close to .500, 40-42. (Lenny Wilkens now has more losses, but Lenny also once had the most wins, and, like Don Nelson who has surpassed him in that regard, is well over .500.)

3. Willis Reed, Knicks 1977-79 and Nets 1987-89. 82-124, .398. A truly great player for the Knicks, but great players often don't make good coaches. Aside from Stephon Marbury, he may be the only man ever to so badly cock up both area NBA franchises.

2. Chuck Dressen, Dodgers, 1951-53. 298-166, .642. A baseball season was 154 games back then, and in each of his 3 seasons, Dressen got the Dodgers to at least a 157th game. And he won 64 percent of his regular-season games. So how could he be so high on this list? Observe:

1951: The Dodgers led the National League by 13 games on August 11. They blew it, and faced their arch-rivals, the New York Giants, in a best 2-out-of-3 playoff. We all know how that ended: Bobby Thomson hits one out off Ralph Branca, and "The Giants win the Pennant!" Dressen had Branca and Carl Erskine in his bullpen. Erskine had a great curve, but Dressen brought in Branca, who had only a fastball, to face Thomson, who couldn't hit anything BUT a fastball, and who had already homered off Branca in the first game of the playoff. Branca didn't lose that Pennant, Dressen did.

1952: The Dodgers won the Pennant, but lost the World Series to the Yankees in 7 games. True, the Dodgers were without their best pitcher, Don Newcombe, who was serving in the Korean War -- but so was the Yankees' best pitcher, Whitey Ford. And Dressen trusted Billy Loes twice, with disastrous results.

1953: The Dodgers won 104 games, tying a franchise record that still stands, and ran away with the Pennant.  Again, they lost to the World Series to the Yankees. Dressen still didn't have Newcombe, and the Yankees had Ford back (but then, Ford was serving in '51 and Newcombe hadn't yet been drafted), and Dressen trusted Johnny Podres 2 years too soon in Game 5, where he got rocked, and trusted Erskine too little in Game 6, and pulled him too early and the Yanks clinched.

After the '53 season, Dressen's wife told him to demand a three-year contract from Dodger owner Walter O'Malley. O'Malley's policy was to give his managers only one-year contracts, figuring it would motivate them more. Mr. and Mrs. Dressen wanted the security. O'Malley wanted the control and the fear factor. He fired Dressen, not for his mismanaging, but for his impudence. O'Malley hired Walter Alston, and 2 years later, the Dodgers finally won it all. (In fact, it was on October 4, 1955, 55 years ago today.)

Still, as my Grandma, an old Dodger fan from Queens would say, "Oh, that Dressen! He was so stupid!" I tried to tell her Bobby Valentine was dumber. She wouldn't buy it. She was right: Bobby V made his share of mistakes, but never got the chance to make as many big ones as Dressen.  (However, if I were making this list for Boston, Bobby V would be on the list, even if he did manage there for only 1 season.)

1. Rich Kotite, Jets, 1995-96. Here we go, the one we cannot top. Or "bottom," as the case may be. Born in Brooklyn, grew up on Staten Island, went to that Borough's Wagner College, played tight end for the Giants from 1967 to 1972, not at all a bad player.  But he did play for 2 guys on this list, Sherman and Webster. And he was an assistant coach under Joe "Must Go" Walton. Were these bad omens?

In 1991 and '92, he got the Philadelphia Eagles into the Playoffs. In 1993, 8-8 wasn't enough. In 1994, he got the Eagles off to a 7-2 start. Then, trailing the Dallas Cowboys by 17 points in the 4th quarter on a soggy afternoon, James Joseph scored a touchdown to pull the Eagles within 24-13. Kotite decided to go for the two-point conversion. Huh? Going for 1 would've gotten them within 10, just a touchdown and a field goal from a tie; going for 2 would've gotten them within 9, but the touchdown they still needed could've been the time to go for 2. The Eagles didn't get it, and lost.  During the post-game press conference, Kotite went the Milli Vanilli route: He blamed it on the rain: "I must have read my chart wrong. It must have gotten wet." You mean you knew it was raining, and didn't have a protective sheet over the chart to keep it dry? How about this: Don't rely on the chart, dumbass! Down by 15, maybe you go for 2; down by 11, no way!

The Eagles lost all their remaining games, finished 7-9, missed the Playoffs, and Kotite was fired. Crap like this is what makes people in Philly go up to cops and say, "Officer, I want to report a crime: The Eagles are killing me!"

On January 4, 1995, a date which lives in infamy -- and not just because it marked the first day as Speaker of the House for Newt Gingrich -- Jets owner Leon Hess announced that he had hired Kotite to be the team's head coach and, effectively, also its GM. Why Kotite? Well, he was a local guy, and a blue-collar guy who could appeal to local fans. But Hess knew that Kotite had led the Eagles to a couple of Playoff berths. Words that Hess should have guessed would outlive him: "I'm 80 years old. I want results now!"

He got results, all right. In 1995, the Jets went 3-13. One of those losses was the first win in franchise history for the expansion Carolina Panthers. (While the Panthers did reach the NFC Championship Game the next season, that first year they were only 4-12.) In 1996, the Jets had they worst season in the history of Tri-State Area football, 1-15. Two days before the team's '96 finale, GM Kotite fired coach Kotite. Owner Hess hired Bill Parcells, and got much better results, although Hess died before Parcells could get the ultimate result for the Jets, like he did twice for the Giants.

Kotite was just 54 years old when he left Weeb Ewbank Hall, but has never again even been hired as an assistant coach. Anywhere. Not the pros, not college, not even in high school.  However, having recently turned 70, he has been a contributor to various NFL Network broadcasts.

In 2004, in a book titled The Great Philadelphia Sports Debate, co-authors Glen Macnow and Angelo Cataldi, both hosts on Philly's sports-talk radio station WIP, took the question of who was the worst coach in Philadelphia sports history. Macnow said it was Doug Moe, who'd been a good coach with the Denver Nuggets, but was a disaster in his half-season with the 76ers. After Macnow's 2 pages detailing this choice, Cataldi said, "No, the worst coach in Philadelphia sports history was Rich Kotite," and then provided an explanation that any prosecutor would love to have thought of for his closing argument.

Think about this: The worst team in the history of Philadelphia sports was the Quakers, who played one season in the NHL, 1930-31, and finished 4-36-4, for a "winning" percentage of .136 that makes the decades of ineptitude of the Phillies (pre-Charlie Manuel), A's and Eagles look brilliant by comparison. The worst single-season team in that city was the 1972-73 76ers, 9-73, .110.

In his last 39 games as an NFL head coach, with 2 different sets of players, Rich Kotite was 4-35. That's a percentage of .103. In neither case, of the '94 Eagles or the '95 and '96 Jets, could he use the excuse of leading an expansion team, or not having a lot of money to spend. (Eagles owner Jeff Lurie was a Hollywood studio head, Hess was an oilman, both were billionaires, and, besides, the NFL has a salary cap which means you can't spend like the Yankees or Manchester City.) Nor were his Eagles and his Jets beset by long-term injuries to multiple key players.  Nor was there trouble in the locker rooms: The Jets may have had Keyshawn Johnson in '96, but he wasn't causing trouble at the time.  And blaming the media or the fans doesn't change the fact that Kotite put himself in position to get ripped by the media and booed by the fans.

There is no viable excuse to explain it: Rich Kotite is the worst head coach in the sports histories of both Philadelphia and New York.

1 comment:

JBsptfn said...

I agree with Coughlin, but his first three years, he would be near the top of this list.