Coaching calamities: Coaches/managers who’ve had a disastrous time with sports teams

Andreas Heraf fell out with the players and the media while in New Zealand. Picture: STUFF SPORTS.

The life of a coach or manager is never easy, when things go well it’s the players who get the credit and when they don’t, it’s the coach who’s in the firing line.

In 1995 the then Leeds United manager Howard Wilkinson said: “there’s only two types of manager, those who have been sacked and those who will be sacked in the future.”

It’s always easier to replace a coach than an entire squad. Just because a coach or manager failed once, it doesn’t mean there necessarily a bad coach or manager and for some, they’ll go on to have success elsewhere, which some on this list did.

So, for no reason whatsoever, David Long decided to take a look at a number of coaches who didn’t have the winning records they hoped for with a team.

Jed Rowlands had the aura of a super coach about him when he left Taranaki to take charge of the Blues. But he had big boots to fill, replacing Sir Graham Henry and after one disastrous Super 12 season, where the Blues finished ninth, he was gone.

There were rumours of a player revolt during the campaign and not only did he lose his head coaching job with the Blues, he was also dumped as Auckland coach, without ever leading the province into a game.

“I am a casualty of Auckland politics, but if ever anyone was looking for a scapegoat I was the obvious one,” Rowlands said at a press conference shortly after his sacking.

Rowlands retained his coaching ambitions, despite his brief and troubled time with the Blues and in 2006 guided the Black Ferns to World Cup glory.


Kiwis – 2007

Gary Kemble had proved himself as a quality coach in the domestic game, but it was a controversial move to appoint him as Brian McClennan’s successor, when Bluey moved on to coach Leeds in the Super League.

Kemble’s first game in charge was the Centenary Test against the Kangaroos in Wellington, where the Kiwis were embarrassed 58-0, the team’s largest ever defeat.

That was followed by a disastrous tour of Great Britain and France. The Kiwis lost the three tests to Great Britain 20-14, 44-0 and 28-22, before salvaging some pride in a 22-14 win over France.

Behind the scenes low morale stemmed from a growing dissatisfaction from the players of Kemble’s coaching style.

After the tour the NZRL opted to keep Kemble on. But Roy Asotasi – backed by team-mate David Kidwell – revealed his concerns publicly, saying Kemble was out of his depth and as a result Kemble resigned,

“I’ve got no regrets about what I did, ” Asotasi said some time later.

“I had to voice my opinion because at the time I felt the Kiwis were heading in the wrong direction.

“I just felt we were going backwards under Gary Kemble.”


Kiwis 2016-18

The apprenticeship looked to have been done by David Kidwell when he replaced Stephen Kearney as Kiwis coach in 2016. He’d done well with the Rabbitohs’ under-20s team, worked under Craig Bellamy at the Storm and became an assistant at Wests Tigers ain 2014.

In the Four Nations in Kidwell’s first year in charge, the Kiwis managed a one-point win over England, but then drew 18-18 with Scotland, which hinted that perhaps all wasn’t well with the team.

In 2017 Kidwell was quick to ban Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor for the World Cup because they were caught on CCTV snorting cocaine after a midyear test against the Kangaroos in Canberra.

Just before the 2017 World Cup Jason Taumalolo, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Manu Ma’u and David Fusita defected to play for Tonga, the day prior to when the Kiwis’ squad was supposed to be announced.

The World Cup was a disaster, with losses to Tonga and Fiji and it was followed by a scathing independent review which found that Kidwell was too inexperienced to be handed the role and he tried to implement too much change in a short space of time.

Kidwell decided not to reapply for the job after that.

“The tough lessons are the ones you learn the most from – and I’ve had a lifetime’s worth of tough lessons over the past year or so,” Kidwell said.

Since then. Kidwell has re-established his coaching credentials, taking charge of the Māori All Stars team and also an assistant with the Eels.


Leeds 1974

You may ask yourself what one of the greatest football managers of all time is doing on this list? After all, he is one of only four managers to win the English league with two clubs, Derby County and Nottingham Forest and he also won consecutive European Cups with the latter in 1979 and 1980.

However, there are the 44 days he managed Leeds for in 1974 to consider and Clough is proof that even the best can fail.

Clough replaced club legend Don Revie, who had moved on to manage England. But Clough wasn’t a fan of Leeds’ style of play, once describing the then league champions as the ‘dirtiest and most cynical team in the country.’

Not surprisingly, the players didn’t appreciate that and from the off they were against Clough. After just four points from six games Clough was sacked.


Cincinnati Bengals 1992-96

As the son of Don Shula, one of the greatest NFL coaches of all time, it was no surprise that he followed in his father’s footsteps.

But while Don won the Super Bowl twice with the Miami Dolphins and is the NFL’s winningest head coach with 347 victories over a 33-year career, Dave holds records coaches want to avoid.

Becoming a head coach at the age of 32, he is the fastest coach to record 50 losses at the beginning of his NFL career, achieving this in just 69 games with Cincinnati.

After four miserable years, the Bengals started their 1996 season with one win from six games, but the final nail in the coffin came in the next game, when they blew a 21-0 lead over San Francisco 49ers, losing 28-21 and he was sacked straight after.

The Baltimore Sun summed up his coaching career the best: “Being Don Shula’s son probably helped Dave Shula get the job, but it made it more difficult for him to get the respect of the players.”


Cleveland Spiders – 1899

The Cleveland Spiders baseball team were perhaps the worst professional franchise there has ever been in American sport and in 1899 their Australian manager Joe Quinn guided them to a record that will never be matched.

That year the Spiders won 20 games and lost 134.

However, the blame doesn’t really lie with Quinn, but the club’s owners, Frank and Stanley Robinson.

Before the 1899 season began they also bought the St Louis Perfectos (now called the Cardinals) and then moved all the best Spiders players to the Perfectos, including legendary pitcher Cy Young.

Everyone knew it was a farce and crowds dropped to as low as 58 spectators for one game. So management decided to play most of their games on the road, which means their record of 101 away defeats in a season will never be beaten, while in all they lost 40 of their last 41 games.

Not surprisingly, the Spiders were disbanded at the end of the season and the rules were changed to stop anyone owning more than one club again.


Tottenham Hotspur 1993-94

As a player the Argentinian was a fan favourite at White Hart Lane, but he is a perfect example of the theory some have, that you should never go back.

He returned to Spurs after guiding West Bromwich Albion to glory in the division two playoff final the previous season and supporters were hoping he could lead the north London club back to his glory days.

Ardiles thought he’d try to revolutionise football at Spurs. He brought Jurgen Klinsmann, Ilie Dumitrescu and Gheorghe Popescu to join Teddy Sheringham and went with an all-out attack approach.

Sometimes playing with five forwards, Spurs were thrilling to watch, but when they were defending they were dreadful due to the lack of players behind the ball.

His ‘if you score four, we’ll score five’ philosophy didn’t work and after a 5-2 loss to Manchester City and then 3-0 defeat to Notts County, he was sacked.


Fulham 2014

When Felix Magath was appointed Fulham manager in February 2014 he faced an almost impossible task of trying to keep the West London club in the Premier League.

He didn’t do it, but Fulham started the next season as the favourites to win the Championship. However, they lost six of their first seven games, while in one of those defeats Magath played six defenders across the back.

It was only when he was sacked after a 5-3 loss to Nottingham Forest that it emerged just how odd things were at Fulham with him in charge.

Club captain Brede Hangeland revealed that during the relegation season he had a mild thigh injury. He was put on a recovery programme by the team’s doctor, but Magath instead ordered a member of his staff to buy a large block of cheese from a supermarket.

He then told Hangeland to soak the cheese in alcohol and place it on his leg where it hurt overnight. No, it didn’t work.

After one loss, Magath ordered all the team to come in for training the following day.

When the players got onto the training field Magath told them to go into their playing positions and said: ‘you didn’t want to run yesterday, so you’re not running today’ and made them all stand still for an hour in the cold.

Magath would also make the players do hill runs the day before games, while for away fixtures insisted all the team went to the hotel bar at 9pm for a beer.

Fulham won just four of the 20 games Magath was in charge of them for.


Crusaders 2009-16

Harsh? Well yes, the Crusaders did get to the playoffs for all but one year when Todd Blackadder was coaching the team and his record with them was 85 wins, three draws and 45 losses, which is only a fraction worse than Wayne Smith’s winning percentage with the team.

But what makes Todd Blackadder’s time with the Crusaders look like a failure is what happened before he arrived and afterwards.

Blackadder inherited a Robber Deans coached team that won the Super Rugby title for three of the previous four years.

His successor, Scott Robertson, won three Super Rugby titles in a row, then won back to back Super Rugby Aotearoa titles.

Blackadder had to get the team through the tough times after the 2011 earthquake and he’ll forever be a legend in the region.

But facts are facts and in a place sometimes known as Title Town, Blackadder didn’t win any.


Football Ferns 2017-2018

After resigning, he told Austrian media that New Zealand newspapers had compared him to Adolf Hitler, which wasn’t true. But it was ridiculous claims like this which typified Heraf’s reign as the Football Ferns coach.

After a 3-1 loss to Japan, he said his team wasn’t good enough to be anything other than defensive against top teams.

“We will never have that quality to compete with Japan and even be better than Japan,” he said.

Worse was to come when 13 players submitted a formal complaint about him, which was believed to have included claims about bullying and intimidation.

NZ Football placed Heraf on special leave and launched an investigation.

“The players’ allegations lack any foundation and are based on fundamental differences in professionalism and performance,” Heraf told Austrian newspaper Der Standard of the accusations, but by the end of July he resigned.


Wales 2002-04

Of course, in New Zealand everyone thinks of Steve Hansen as the coach who guided the All Blacks to World Cup success in 2015 and he’s clearly one of the greatest coaches ever in the game.

But Hansen’s time with Wales was considerably less successful. He took over from Henry, who was no longer regarded as the nation’s ‘great redeemer’ by then and under Hansen’s reign they lost 11 straight tests, their worst run ever.

During one press conference he was asked by a journalist if he’d ‘lost the plot’.

Hansen has reflected on his time at Wales since then and admitted he didn’t get everything right, but to be fair, he was Wales coach during a time when the game was being drastically restructured in the country, reducing the number of regional clubs from nine to five.

While he was the fall guy, Hansen put in the groundwork for the success reaped by Warren Gatland.


Silver Ferns 2015-18

Stuff’s Brendon Egan summed up Southby’s time as Silver Ferns coach perfectly in July 2018.

“Over the past year, the once-mighty Ferns have transformed into a basket-case,’ Egan wrote.

“They lost three successive times to Jamaica within a month and suffered a harrowing first loss in their history to Malawi at the [Commonwealth] Games.

“New Zealand have won just six of their past 18 games since October 2017 and lost 11 straight games to tier one nations (Australia, England and Jamaica).”

Netball NZ launched a review of the disastrous Commonwealth Games campaign and 96 days after the 60-55 loss to Jamaica in the bronze medal match, Southby finally resigned.

The review found that Southby and assistant Yvette McCausland-Durie were inexperienced at international level, were too similar and lacked complementary skill sets.

Also, after the loss to Malawi at the Games, ‘the team and coaching group fractured’, and confidence in the Games campaign ‘completely disappeared’.

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