Saturday, May 8, 2010

Once A Loser

As a fan of the Lions I feel like I have a better idea of what goes into being a really bad football team/franchise than - say - a recent fan of the Patriots or a fan of the Cowboys or something. Heck, Yankee fans burn players in effigy when their teams don't win the World Series. Not saying much but I think I've earned a little perspective.

But anyway, I've kind of noticed something. While every team has down years, the truly bad teams have a terrible time getting off the mat. It's one thing to go 5-11, it's entirely different to go 2-14.

I'm not entirely sure where the demarcation between 'bad year' and 'true futility actually lies, but for arguments' sake I'm going to pretend that 3-13 is the number. In other words, decent teams can have bad or unlucky years and end up with 4 wins, only truly bad teams can do worse.

So anyway, I got curious about the 5 year results of teams that hit this nadir. How hard is it for teams to recover? It seemed like an easy enough think to look at so here goes.

I'll start with 1995 and go to 2004. This should give us a good sample of 3 win teams. I'll take a look at their post 3-win season high water mark, the number of coaching changes, and where they ultimately ended up.


New York Jets (3-13) HC Rich Kotite. Record in 2000: 9-7, high water: 12-4 in 1998, low water: 1-15 1996. Two HC changes. Five year record: 39-41


Jets, five year record: 48-32

New Orleans Saints (3-13). HC: Rick Venturi/Jim Mora. Record in 2001: 7-9, high water: 10-6 in 2000, low water 3-13 in 1999. Three HC changes. Five year record: 32-48

Atlanta Falcons (3-13). HC: June Jones. Record in 2001: 7-9, high water: 14-2 in 1998 (SB), low water 4-12 in 2000. One HC change. Five year record: 37-43.


Indianapolis Colts (3-13). HC: Lindy Infante. Record in 2002: 10-6, high water 13-3 in 1999, low water 3-13 in 1998. Two HC changes. Five year record: 42-38.


Indianapolis Colts (3-13). Five year record: 51-29.

Cincinnati Bengals (3-13). HC: Bruce Coslet. Record in 2003: 8-8, high water 8-8 in 2003, low water 2-14 in 2002. Two HC changes. Five year record: 24-56.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-13). HC: Ray Rhodes. Record in 2003: 12-4, high water 12-4 in 2002, 2003, low water 5-11 in 1999. One HC change. Five year record: 51-29.


New Orleans Saints. Five year record: 42-38.

Cleveland Browns (2-14). HC: Chris Palmer. Record in 2004: 4-12, high water 9-7 in 2002, low water 3-13 in 2000. Two HC changes. Five year record: 28-52.


Cleveland Browns. Five year record: 31-49.

San Diego Chargers (1-15). HC: Mike Riley. Record in 2005: 9-7, high water 12-4 in 2004, low water 4-12 in 2003. One HC change. Five year record: 38-42.

Arizona Cardinals (3-13). HC: Dave Mcinnis/Vince Tobin. Record in 2005: 5-11, high water 7-9 in 2001, low water 4-12 in 2003. Two HC changes. Five year record: 27-53.


Buffalo Bills (3-13). HC: Gregg Williams. Record in 2006: 7-9, high water 9-7 in 2004, low water 5-11 in 2005. Two HC changes. Five year record: 35-45.

Detroit Lions (2-14). HC: Marty Mornhinweg. Record in 2006: 3-13, high water 6-10 in 2004, low water 3-13 in 2002, 2006. Three HC changes. Five year record: 22-58.

Carolina Panthers (1-15). HC: George Seifert. Record in 2006: 8-8, high water 11-5 in 2003 (SB), 2005, low water 7-9 in 2002, 2004. One HC change. Five year record: 44-36.


Cincinnati Bengals (2-14). Five year record: 42-38.

Detroit Lions (3-13). Five year record: 26-54.

(none in 2003)

San Francisco 49ers (2-14). HC: Dennis Erickson. Record in 2009: 8-8, high water 8-8 in 2009, low water 4-12 in 2005. Two HC changes. Five year record: 29-51.


Okay, so what - if anything - can we see from this? 13 distinct teams had at least one season of 3 wins or fewer, more than I expected. Of those 6 had at least two seasons like this while 1 (the Lions) had three.

Honestly this is the kind of post where I do all the work and find the results irritating enough that I just want to delete the whole thing. It wouldn't be the first time. One of these teams became one of the top teams of the next decade, four others became very good and went to Super Bowls. Another enjoyed some Bill Parcells magic before being forced to remake themselves a few more times.

and 6 of them never really got off the mat. Only San Francisco, Detroit, Arizona and Cincinnati went the next 5 years without a winning season, and two of them touched .500. If nothing else this shows that even being awful is a transient condition - unless you are the Lions.


  1. You seem to have demonstrated that Pete Rozelle's vision came true: parity is alive and well.

    Makes sense that the worst teams would undertake the most complete rebuilding projects. If you engage Bill Parcells or Bill Polian, or even Dan Reeves, then you are serious about getting better.

    It further underlines how truly catastrophic Matt Millen's tenure was. The other teams in your list rode the normal waves up and down, that the incoming talent from high draft picks should cause. Millen's failure to judge and acquire talent kept the Lions from ever getting on that cycle. Sad.

    Worst hire ever.

  2. Oh by the way, Rick Venturi is on your list. That guy's career was a real litany of failure.

  3. I'd say 2 of those teams became among 'the top teams of the next decade.'

    Yeah, I'd hate to be a Lions fan. Iggles fans post-1960 can sympathize, truly. [Look at some of those godawful records, coaches, trades and draft picks btw then and Vermeil.]

    Gotta be the first franchise ever where the fans hired planes to fly overhead with banners saying 'Fire the Coach' "Joe Must Go!"

    I mean, they were doing it 35 years ago!


  4. I really don't agree that Millen was the worst hire ever - and I understand that the statement was intentionally hyperbolic. At the time the Lions were treading water - just getting out of the Bobby Ross years, still hung over post-Barry and the team was getting old. They'd been run by bean counters for years and virtually everyone agreed that great teams were run by "football" guys and that Millen was a great hire.

    The real problem was how disinterested Millen was in running the team, how unwilling he was to give the football people any input, and of course the worst was WCF sticking with him for about four years after it was obvious to everyone that he wasn't cut out for the gig.

    Meanwhile the guys that Millen fired - Bill Tobin and Kevin Colbert, among others - went off to Indianapolis and Pittsburgh and built champions. So really a double whammy for Detroit, they didn't recognize the talent they had, and they stuck with an incompetent guy instead.

    Now with Mayhew and Schwartz there are a couple of football guys running the team, but unlike Millen they are invested and engaged and both are accountable to others.


    I considered Philadelphia but decided that Super Bowl championships trump good records when determining 'the best'. I have no problem with anyone who thinks Philadelphia belongs too. Their record of winning seasons and deep playoff runs under Reid is remarkable, I would probably put them on par with the Ravens, a bit behind New England, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. I really don't think there is any close 6th.


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