There is no greater pressure in American professional sports than being the coach of an NFL team during the Super Bowl. It’s a winner-takes-all affair with 100 million fans watching, meaning every decision a coach makes is critical. For many, that pressure has been too much. From Pete Carroll not giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch to Kyle Shanahan being over-aggressive with the Falcons, some decisions are so bad, fanbases will never get over the pain. These are the worst coaching decisions in Super Bowl history. Which one will you never forget?
Lovie Smith Goes With Rex Grossman
The 2006 Chicago Bears featured an absurdly dominant defense and terrific special teams. While the offense needed to be mistake-free, it didn’t necessarily have to be dynamic. The defense, led by Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, and special teams ace Devin Hester would take care of everything else.
Lovie Smith decided his quarterback would be mistake prone Rex Grossman. He had options in veteran Brian Griese and Kyle Orton, but stuck with his guy. Grossman was anemic in the game, only throwing for 165 yards with two interceptions and lost a fumble.
Parcells Kicks It To Desmond Howard
Bill Parcells remains one of the greatest NFL coaches who ever lived. He led the 1996 New England Patriots, with young quarterback Drew Bledsoe, to Super Bowl XXXI. After a Curtis Martin touchdown in the 3rd quarter, the Pats had cut the Packers’ lead to 6.
Rather than keeping the ball away from Desmond Howard, who had already had some big returns, Parcells kicked the ball right to him. The former Heisman Trophy Award winner took the ball 99 yards for a touchdown, sealing the win for the Packers.
Bill Belichick Benches Malcolm Butler
Malcolm Butler was one of the New England Patriots’ true success stories. Undrafted out of West Alabama, he became an integral part of the team’s defense, made the Pro Bowl in 2015, and picked off a crucial pass in Super Bowl XLIX.
All those facts made Bill Belichick’s decision to bench the corner in Super Bowl LII totally shocking. The Patriots’ secondary, sans Butler, was summarily shredded by Nick Foles. Butler left New England for the Tennessee Titans that offseason.
Jim Caldwell Attempts A Loooong Field FG
Late in Super Bowl XLIV, the Colts had a long drive that ended on the Saints’ 33-yard line. If legendarily clutch kicker Adam Vinatieri was healthy, this would have been an easy decision. The back-up kicker, Matt Stover, didn’t have that kind of range anymore, though.
Colts Coach Jim Caldwell has Stover try the 50-yarder anyway and it missed. Drew Brees and the Saints took the ball at their own 41 and scored within 9 plays. If Caldwell could do this one over, he would have punted.
Pete Carroll Said “No” To Marshawn Lynch
Pete Carroll made what many consider to be the worst coaching decision in championship history during Super Bowl XLIX. The Seahawks had second and goal with one yard to go and the clock winding down. A touchdown would have won the game, giving Seattle back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
That win never happened. Head coach Pete Carroll chose to pass the ball, instead of handing off to Marshawn Lynch, one of the strongest running back in NFL history. The fateful slant by Russell Wilson intended for Ricardo Lockette was picked off by Malcolm Butler, and the Patriots won the game.
Forrest Gregg Was Too Predictable On The Goal Line
In 1982, the Cincinnati Bengals faced the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XVI. The Bengals were clawing their way back from a 20-0 deficit when disaster struck thanks to offensive coordinator Forrest Gregg.
The Bengals had first and goal on the three-yard line. Greg called a run up the middle for no gain. On second down, he again called a run up the middle, again for no gain. On third down, he called a pass that was broken up. Going for it again on fourth down, can you guess what he called? A run up the middle for no gain. Cincinnati wound up losing the game 26-21.
Kyle Shanahan Was Over-Aggressive Against New England
In Super Bowl LI, the Atlanta Falcons played the New England Patriots and stormed out to a 28-3 halftime lead. For all intents and purposes, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan did his job and should have taken his foot off the gas to run the ball more and kill the clock.
As the second half started, the Patriots gained momentum and took advantage of a tired Falcons’ defense. Atlanta was barely holding on to the lead in the fourth quarter but had a chance to ice the game with a few run plays. Instead, Shanahan opted to keep throwing. An offensive holding penalty and sack took the Falcons out of field goal range, giving the ball back to New England.
Bill Belichick Blew A Perfect Season With This Call
The Patriots entered Super Bowl XLII with a perfect 18-0 record. They were looking to become the first team in the modern NFL era to run the table for 19 straight wins. The New York Giants had plans to play spoiler.
At the end of the day, it was head coach Bill Belichick going for it on 4th and 13 that did the job. New England had a 7-3 lead and was in field goal range. They wound up losing 17-14, proving that hindsight is 20/20.
Andy Reid Wasted The Clock In Super Bowl XXXIX
Andy Reid was the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles during Super Bowl XXXIX when his poor clock management skills cost the team a chance at a comeback. Philly was trailing the Patriots but 10 points with 5:41 left in the game when Reid slowed things down.
Trailing two scores, Reid should have been aggressive in his play-calling. Instead, he took four minutes off the clock on a touchdown drive. When Philly got the ball back, they had no timeouts, were pinned their own four-yard line, and had 46 seconds left on the clock. There was nothing they could do.
Joe Gibbs Should Have Taken A Knee
With time running down close to halftime and a long field to go, most head coaches will take a knee to avoid disaster. In Super Bowl XVII, Washington head coach Joe Gibbs got aggressive, proving why sometimes it’s safer to be conservative.
Gibbs’ team was trailing the Raiders 14-3 and had a chance to regroup at halftime. The coach had other ideas, calling a screen pass, a play that had worked earlier in the season. The Raiders weren’t fooled as Jack Squirek jumped the screen, intercepted the pass, and returned it for a touchdown. Los Angeles went on to win 38-9.
Tony Dungy Went Against His Own Word And Kicked It To Devin Hester
The good news about this massive blunder is that it didn’t end up costing the Colts the Super Bowl. Getting ready to go up against the Bears, Indianapolis head coach Tony Dungy told his team all week leading up to the game that they wouldn’t kick the ball to Devin Hester.
Once the game started, Dungy changed his mind. He said he didn’t want to look weak. He may not have looked weak, but Hester made him look stupid by returning the opening kick-off for a touchdown.
Mike Ditka Admitted Handing Off To “Refrigerator” Perry Was A Mistake
Like with Tony Dungy, this mistake didn’t end up costing the Bears the Super Bowl. Still, not many coaches will admit to making as big a blunder as Mike Ditka did when he handed the ball to William “Refrigerator” instead of Walter Peyton.
Peyton had led the NFL in rushing yards that year and should have been given an opportunity to score in the Super Bowl. Ditka opted to let a defensive lineman take the offensive snap instead, later lamenting, “I realized after the game that Walter Payton didn’t score. It bothered him and because it bothered him, it bothered me.”
Mike Holmgren Let The Broncos Score
With just under two minutes left in Super Bowl XXXII, the Packers were barely holding onto a lead against the Broncos. Denver was on the goal line and poised to take the lead when Green Bay head coach Mike Holmgren let them score.
Holmgren told his defense to let Denver score. He wanted to preserve as much time on the clock as possible for his team to drive down the field one last time. Predictably, the move backfired and Denver won the championship 31-24.
Kyle Shanahan Couldn’t Press The Brakes In Super Bowl LIV
Did Kyle Shanahan learn from his mistakes in Atlanta when he led the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl LIV? The short answer is no. The 49ers held a 10 point lead over the Kansas City Chiefs with seven minutes to go.
Shanahan should have started running the ball to kill the clock. He didn’t. Incomplete passes and stalled drives left too much time for Patrick Mahomes to pull of the offset. At the end of the game, Kansas City won 31-20.
Ken Whisenhunt Punted When He Should Have Kicked A Field Goal
Super Bowl XLIII was one of the most exciting Super Bowls of all time. A face-off between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals, it turned into a semi-shootout between Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner. Points were at a premium, so why then, did the Cardinals punt late in the 4th quarter when they were in field goal range?
There was 3:34 left in the game and Arizona was on the 36-yard line when head coach Ken Whisenhunt opted to punt instead of sending Neil Rackers out go for three. The Cardinals eventually lost, and passing up these points could have been the reason why.
Jim Harbaugh Should Have Run The Ball
The 49ers looked like they were about to make a huge Super Bowl comeback against the Baltimore Ravens when head coach Jim Harbaugh decided to get pass-happy. With dual-threat QB Colin Kaepernick under center, San Francisco drove down the field late in the game and had a shot to take the lead.
Harbaugh called three straight pass plays when he should have called at least one run for mobile signal-caller. The left side of the field was open, but that wasn’t the call. The game was sealed as the fade in the back of the endzone was thrown incomplete.
Lovie Smith Was Forced To Use A Timeout Against Indianapolis
One more blunder from Super Bowl XLI must be pointed out. After Lovie Smith burned a timeout early in the 4th quarter, he was forced to use another timeout to challenge an interception returned for a touchdown.
The early timeout being lost would come back to haunt the head coach as his team trailed with five minutes to go and were forced to go for it on fourth and nine. If Smith had one more timeout, he would have been able to punt and trust his defense to get the ball back. The Bears lost the game 29-17.
Don Shula Waited Too Long To Make A QB Change
Super Bowl XVII featured a Don Shula-coached Miami Dolphins team who spent the regular season switching back and forth between QBs. Facing the Washington Redskins, Shula opted to start David Woodley, who was coming off a terrible performance in the AFC Championship Game.
During the regular season, if Woodley struggled, Shula would replace him with Don Strock. In the biggest game of the season, Shula waited until there was 1:55 left in the game to make the move, even though Woodley had thrown three interceptions.
Marv Levy Lost The Game, Not Scott Norwood
To Buffalo Bills fans, kicker Scott Norwood will always be remembered as the man who missed a game-winning field goal in the Super Bowl. The problem is he never should have had to make that kick, at least from the distance he did.
Despite having Jim Kelly as his quarterback and needing to get the ball downfield fast, Levy chose to run the ball late in the game. For his career, Norwood was only 59 percent accurate on kicks of more than 40 yards. If Levy had been more urgent and set up a shorter field goal, the chances of Norwood making the game-winning kick would have increased to 83 percent.
Bill Callahan Needed To Change Gannon’s Hand Signals
Rich Gannon was the MVP of the NFL under head coach Bill Callahan in 2002. It was Callahan’s first year in charge of the Raiders after taking over for Jon Gruden, who had been traded to Tampa Bay in the offseason. The two teams met in the Super Bowl.
With the league MVP under center, Gannon should have given Oakland a huge advantage. Instead, Gruden taught his defense the QBs hand signals that he would use at the line. Signals that Callahan had not changed in the offseason. Gannon wound up throwing five interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns.