Even NFL Hall of Fame coaches struggled at first

Mets can't afford to hire wrong team president

There are 26 men who have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as head coaches. There are two other current coaches — Bill Belichick and Andy Reid — who are certain to join them. 

Some started winning as soon as they put whistles around their necks: George Halas went 10-1-2 as a 25-year-old rookie coach in 1920. Paul Brown was 12-2 with the 1946 Browns in the old AAFC. John Madden was 32 when he took over the Raiders in 1969, and he promptly went 12-1-1 with them. 

Twelve had losing records in their first year. And not just so-so under-.500 records, either, but the kind of lopsided losing marks that take years to overcome in a league in which they used to play as few as 12 games in a year and still play just 17. 

This isn’t to say Jets head coach Robert Saleh — 4-13 in his first season — is bound for a bust at Canton. If you take a look at the vast expanse of NFL history, and the men who have coached the various franchises since 1920, there is something that stands out significantly: 

There have been far more bad coaches than good coaches. There have been way, way more forgettable coaches than immortal ones. 

But even some the very best had to scuffle. Almost all had perfectly good reasons for being so bad: expansion teams, or teams with expansion-level talent. Not every coach is George Seifert, gifted a Super Bowl-caliber team by Bill Walsh; or Matt LaFleur, Aaron Rodgers lottery-ticket holder. 

Here are the first-time Hall of Famers (or future Hall of Famers) with the very worst debuts. Maybe some of these names can give Saleh solace. You really never know. 

12. Tom Landry, 1960 Dallas Cowboys, 0-11-1 (.000)

The Cowboys were an expansion team, but did manage to tie Landry’s old team, the Giants, 31-31, the next-to last week of the year. It took seven seasons, but by 1966 the Cowboys were winners, losing back-to-back NFL title games to Vince Lombardi’s Packers. 

Tom Landry
Tom Landry did not win a game in his first season in charge of the Cowboys.
Getty Images

11. Jimmy Johnson, 1989 Dallas Cowboys, 1-15 (.063)

After Year 1, the Johnson-Jerry Jones combo was nearly laughed out of the NFL. By Year 5, they had won back-to-back Super Bowl championships. 

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10. Chuck Noll, 1969 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1-13 (.071)

Noll won his first game, 16-13 over the Lions, then lost his next 16 and 30 of his first 42. But the losing yielded one epic draft pick after another. By 1980, he had four rings. 

9. Bill Walsh, 1979 San Francisco 49ers, 2-14 (.125)

Walsh’s first team featured a washed-up running back named O.J. Simpson — but also a rookie backup QB named Joe Montana. Within two years, the magic had begun. 

Matt Walsh
Matt Walsh
Popperfoto via Getty Images

8. Greasy Neale, 1941 Philadelphia Eagles, 2-8-1 (.200) 

Joe Judge could have used Neale, who went 2-9 in his second season, as a guide. Despite Neale’s 4-17-1 start, by decade’s end the Eagles had won two NFL titles. If that epilogue happens for Judge, it’ll be in a different city. 

7. Bill Parcells, 1983 Giants, 3-12-1 (.219)