Strangest Coaching Moves in Sports History
It’s easy to take a good coach for granted. When everything is going well and the wins are rolling in, fans hardly take a moment to appreciate the person running the show.
But when it goes bad, everybody takes notice. And everybody wants to know who’s going to be the next coach to take over their favorite team.
That process doesn’t always go smoothly. Sometimes, things can go a little haywire during the transition of bringing in a new coach or getting rid of an old one. And those are the moments that get burned into our brains.
These are the strangest coaching moves in sports history.
25. Jack Hartman
School: Oklahoma State University
What happened: Legendary Kansas State men’s basketball coach Jack Hartman announced he was headed back to his alma mater, Oklahoma State, where he’d been a basketball and football star. The move lasted one day.
Bottom line: It must have seemed like destiny for Oklahoma State fans when the school hired Jack Hartman, a native Oklahoman, away from basketball power Kansas State. Their excitement was warranted, because in seven seasons, Hartman had led the Wildcats to three Elite Eight appearances and a Sweet 16.
One day later, Hartman decided that he wanted to stay in Manhattan, where he coached until his retirement in 1986 and has a street named after him next to the basketball stadium.
It would be another 13 years until OSU would hire a coach, Eddie Sutton, who would return them to respectability.
24. Josh McDaniels
Team: Indianapolis Colts
What happened: New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels agreed to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts but bailed on the team the night before he was set to be introduced.
Bottom line: The Patriots decided they couldn’t afford to lose both of their coordinators in one swoop after defensive coordinator Matt Patricia left to coach the Detroit Lions.
Josh McDaniels presented one face to the Colts, seemingly ready to take over leading their franchise. To the Patriots, he expressed reservations about moving his family across the country and his loyalty to the franchise.
New England owner Robert Kraft stepped in to sweeten the pot for McDaniels, and he bailed on the Colts, who were left stunned. Indianapolis hired former Bills quarterback Frank Reich, went 10-6 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
McDaniels and the Patriots won the Super Bowl — his sixth as an assistant.
23. Gregg Marshall
School: College of Charleston
What happened: Winthrop men’s basketball head coach Gregg Marshall reversed course on the College of Charleston after his introductory news conference and headed back to Winthrop.
Bottom line: Charleston didn’t do so bad after Gregg Marshall, a former Charleston assistant, turned them down, bringing in former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins.
Marshall’s decision now seems prescient. He stayed at Winthrop for one more year before leaving to become head coach at basketball-crazy Wichita State. There, he’s led the Shockers to a Final Four, Sweet 16 and an undefeated regular season over the last decade, along with producing NBA talent year on an annual basis.
He’s also become one of the highest-paid coaches in college basketball, raking in a reported $3.5 million per year.
22. Glen Mason
School: University of Georgia
What happened: University of Kansas head football coach Glen Mason took the job at Georgia, then had a change of heart days later and decided to stay at Kansas.
Bottom line: To add insult to injury, fired Georgia coach Ray Goff was asked to introduce new coach Glen Mason at his introductory news conference, then to his team. "It was like watching another man or woman walk through the door of your house," Goff said.
For Mason, it was much less emotional. He was hired on Dec. 18 and called athletic director Vince Dooley on Christmas Day to tell him he wasn’t going to coach the Bulldogs.
Dooley scrambled to hire Marshall coach Jim Donnan, who was fired after five seasons. Mason left Kansas one year later to become the coach at Minnesota, where he stayed for 10 seasons.
21. Dana Altman
School: University of Arkansas
What happened: Dana Altman left Creighton men’s basketball to become the head coach at Arkansas, then had a change of heart 24 hours later.
Bottom line: The strangest part of Dana Altman being hired by Arkansas was the introductory news conference. The highly sought coach looked like he wanted to be anywhere but Fayetteville, where they were giving him a five-year contract for a reported $1.5 million per year.
Citing "family reasons," Altman cut bait one day later and jumped on a private plane sent by Creighton boosters to swoop him up. Arkansas hired John Pelphrey, who was fired after four seasons.
Altman left Creighton four years later for Oregon, where led the Ducks to the Final Four in 2017 — their first since 1939.
20. Rick Majerus
School: University of Southern California
What happened: Former University of Utah coach Rick Majerus was working for ESPN when he took the USC job, but cited "health concerns" when he resigned four days later.
Bottom line: In retrospect, the criticism of Rick Majerus’ reasoning for leaving USC was probably unfounded.
He caught it from all sides when a rumor leaked that the real reason for his leaving USC was that his mother didn’t want him to move so far away from where she lived in Wisconsin.
Two years later, Majerus took the job as head coach at the University of Saint Louis. Five years into his tenure there, he took a leave of absence from the team for "health reasons" in 2012 and died four months later succumbing to heart problems that had dogged him since the late 1980s.
19. Billy Donovan
Team: Orlando Magic
What happened: After winning back-to-back NCAA titles, University of Florida men’s basketball coach Billy Donovan was an NBA head coach for the Orlando Magic for less than a week.
Bottom line: It’s hard to blame Billy Donovan for wanting to make the move to the NBA — especially when you consider the Magic offered him a reported five-year contract for $27.5 million. Then, Donovan woke up a few days later and decided he wanted to stay with the Gators.
That touched off several days of legal wrangling between Donovan’s lawyers and the Magic, with the team ultimately letting him out of his contract after he agreed not to coach in the NBA for five years.
The Magic hired Stan Van Gundy, while Donovan left Florida to coach the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015.
18. Jon Gruden
Teams: Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What happened: Most of the country found out you could trade for a coach (surprise!) when the Buccaneers made a big move to hire Jon Gruden away from the Raiders.
Bottom line: The Raiders and owner Al Davis had grown tired of Jon Gruden, one of the elite coaches in the NFL, because of his headstrong approach. Davis essentially worked out a sign-and-trade with the desperate Bucs, who had just fired Tony Dungy and missed on several high-profile candidates.
The Raiders received two first-round picks, three second-round picks and $8 million in cash in exchange for Gruden. The Raiders replaced Gruden with Bill Callahan, and one year later, the Buccaneers topped the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Gruden coached the Bucs for seven seasons before being fired in 2009 ... then returned to coach the Raiders in 2018.
17. Barry Melrose
Team: Tampa Bay Lightning
What happened: Famed ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose got back in the coaching ring after 13 years but was fired by the Tampa Bay Lightning after just 16 games.
Bottom line: Barry Melrose did have a Stanley Cup Final appearance on his resume — he led the Kings and Wayne Gretzky there in 1995. By the time he got another chance with the Lightning, he was more well-known for his 12 years as a hockey analyst on TV, but he thought he could still lead a winner.
Melrose held a Festivus-esque "Airing of Grievances" with his team after two straight losses early in the season. He reportedly went around the room and called everyone out by name, then didn’t come to practice afterward.
Melrose was fired the next day and replaced by assistant coach Rick Tocchet.
16. Glynn Cyprien
School: University of Louisiana-Lafayette
What happened: Oklahoma State men’s basketball assistant coach Glynn Cyprien helped the Cowboys make the Final Four, then made a short-lived move to the head coach ranks until his falsified resume was unveiled.
Bottom line: The Louisiana university system requires that all head coaches at colleges have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Glynn Cyprien claimed to have earned his bachelor’s from the University of Texas-San Antonio, where he played in the late 1980s, and was hired as head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette.
An anonymous call to ULL let the school know that his education wasn’t what they thought. In reality, Cyprien had a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Lacrosse University, an online college with no accreditation.
As soon as Cyprien’s deception was uncovered, he was fired. He’s been a Division I assistant and NBA D-League head coach in the years since.
15. Bobby Cremins
School: University of South Carolina
What happened: Georgia Tech men’s basketball head coach Bobby Cremins announced he was going to coach at his alma mater, the University of South Carolina, but changed his mind three days later.
Bottom line: Bobby Cremins, a basketball star for the Gamecocks in the late 1960s, single-handedly changed Georgia Tech from the laughingstock of college basketball to an ACC power.
So when his hiring at South Carolina was announced, the fast and furious reaction from Gamecock fans was overwhelming from Cremins' perspective, and he bailed on the job.
South Carolina turned to Eddie Fogler. Cremins retired from Georgia Tech in 2000 with the court named after him.
14. Gene Stephenson
School: University of Oklahoma
What happened: Gene Stephenson, one of the most successful college baseball coaches of all time, left Wichita State for Oklahoma and was the coach there for mere hours before he reversed course.
Bottom line: Gene Stephenson was the head coach at Wichita State for 28 years when he decided to take the job with Oklahoma, where he’d been an assistant coach and helped lead the Sooners to five College World Series appearances early in his career.
He was teary-eyed during a news conference to announce his hiring, then just hours later said he was headed back to Wichita State. He cited "unresolvable scholarship issues" at Oklahoma, whatever that means.
Stephenson, who won a national title in 1989, coached the Shockers for eight more years before he was fired in 2013.
13. Dan Dakich
Team/school: University of West Virginia
What happened: Dan Dakich was named the new men’s basketball coach at the University of West Virginia after five seasons at Bowling Green, but quit after one week in Morgantown.
Bottom line: Dan Dakich, a disciple of Bob Knight as both a player and a coach, started to feel squirelly after his first team meeting at West Virginia, where he threw five players out for being late.
Dakich reportedly tried to renegotiate his contract (which hadn’t been signed) after seeing the players he had coming back and university officials hedged, saying that they’d already renegotiated the deal twice before announcing the hire.
Dakich got Bowling Green to take him back and said he was leaving WVU, citing "possible NCAA violations" at WVU the previous year. Dakich coached at Bowling Green until 2007, and West Virginia hired John Beilein.
12. Bill Belichick
Team: New York Jets
What happened: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was the New York Jets head coach for one day before he announced he was going to coach the Patriots instead, laying the foundation for the NFL’s greatest dynasty.
Bottom line: If leaving the Jets hanging was some way for Bill Belichick to get some type of Machavellian revenge on the team, then bravo.
In 1997, the Jets were unable to hire Belichick’s mentor, Bill Parcells, away from the Patriots, so they "settled" for his top assistant and announced Belichick as the coach. One week later, the Jets announced they had a deal with Parcells and demoted Belichick, who agreed to be a Jets assistant.
Belichick was on to New England in 2000 and has won six Super Bowls with the Patriots (and played in three more) through 2019. The Jets haven’t been to the playoffs since 2010.
11. Wally Backman
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
What happened: The Diamondbacks fired former major league star Wally Backman after a New York Times article revealed their new manager’s past was filled with a variety of legal and financial woes.
Bottom line: Wally Backman, who played 14 years in the majors, was a successful minor league manager before being given his first major league managerial assignment. It lasted four days.
The article in the Times revealed he’d been arrested twice — for a domestic incident and for DUI — and filed for bankruptcy since his playing career had ended.
The Diamondbacks were forced to admit they’d not done any criminal or financial background checks on Backman and initiated their own investigation, after which they fired Backman and hired former third base coach Bob Melvin.
Backman worked his way up in the Mets’ organization, peaking as the manager of the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s.
10. Eddie Stanky
Team: Texas Rangers
What happened: Former MLB player and longtime MLB manager Eddie Stanky came out of retirement after nine years to lead the Texas Rangers and lasted one game.
Bottom line: Eddie Stanky, famously portrayed as a player in the Jackie Robinson biopic "42," was in his early 60s when he answered the call to manage the Rangers, who’d just fired Frank Luchessi midway through the season.
Stanky, who hadn’t managed since being with the White Sox in 1968, apparently was overwhelmed by the attitudes of modern players and missed his native Alabama, where he was the head coach at the University of South Alabama.
He coached one game, a win, resigned just 18 hours after he’d been named coach and got his job back at the college.
The next man up to manage the Rangers, Connie Ryan, lasted six games.
9. Bill Gadsby
Team: Detroit Red Wings
What happened: Hockey Hall of Famer Bill Gadsby played for 20 seasons before taking over as head coach of the Detroit Red Wings in 1967. Two games into his second season, he was fired.
Bottom line: Bill Gadsby went 33-31-12 his first season, 1967, although the Red Wings faltered down the stretch.
With a talented nucleus, including Gordie Howe, Gadsby began 1968 with a lot of optimism. Sitting at 2-0 after a win over Chicago, Red Wings owner Bruce Norris embraced Gadsby outside the locker room and congratulated him.
Norris, who was known for being a bit of a lush, called Gadsby to his office the next day and told him he was giving him the "ziggy" (hockey slang for being fired) while drinking a martini. Norris refused to give a reason and Gadsby confronted the general manager, who was unaware the coach had been fired.
Gadsby ran into Norris years later in Florida and asked why he’d been fired. Norris refused to talk.
8. Patrick Murphy
School: Louisiana State University
What happened: University of Alabama softball head coach Patrick Murphy flipped to rival LSU but only lasted three days, telling the Tigers his heart was still with the Crimson Tide before signing his contract.
Bottom line: Coaching change of hearts aren’t necessarily unheard of. What was strange about this particular one was Patrick Murphy’s reasoning for leaving and the immediate aftermath once he got his job back.
Murphy told the Tuscaloosa News that he was frustrated after two Alabama losses at the Women’s College World Series and that, combined with "sinus issues," had led to him taking the LSU job.
When Murphy got his job back at Alabama, he led them to the first and only NCAA championship in program history the very next season.
LSU hired Beth Torina, who has led the Tigers to four WCWS appearances through 2019.
7. Bob Donewald
School: Brown University
What happened: Longtime Indiana University men’s basketball assistant coach Bob Donewald accepted the job as head coach at Brown University. He changed his mind minutes before the introductory news conference.
Bottom line: Brown athletic director Bob Seiple made a big-time hire with Bob Donewald, who was an assistant on Indiana’s undefeated 1976 NCAA championship team.
The story goes that Seiple picked Donewald up from the airport and was driving him to the news conference to introduce the new coach when Donewald asked him to pull the car over. After several minutes of nervously walking back and forth on the side of the road, Donewald told Seiple he wasn’t going to take the job at Brown and would walk back to the airport.
Donewald instead took the job at Illinois State, where he coached for 10 years.
6. Tom Williams
School: Yale University
What happened: Yale fired head football coach Tom Williams after the school discovered he’d fabricated parts of his resume, including being a Rhodes Scholarship applicant and playing on the 49ers' practice squad.
Bottom line: Tom Williams, a former NFL assistant coach, was in his third season when Yale quarterback Patrick Witt was in the news for deciding to play in the Harvard-Yale game instead of attend an interview for a Rhodes Scholarship.
It put Williams' claim of being a Rhodes candidate at Stanford under the microscope. The Rhodes trust said it had no record of him ever applying, and Williams resigned under pressure.
The New York Times uncovered the real reason for Witt’s missing the Rhodes interview. His application was rejected after they found he’d been accused of an on-campus sexual assault several years earlier.
5. Bill Frieder
School: University of Michigan
What happened: Just before the NCAA tournament, Michigan men’s basketball coach Bill Frieder announced he was leaving for Arizona State after the season. Athletic director Bo Schembechler fired Frieder immediately.
Bottom line: Bo Schembechler’s famous quote after he fired Frieder is an all-timer: "A Michigan man will coach Michigan. Not an Arizona State man."
Top assistant Steve Fisher was hired on an interim basis and somehow led the Wolverines to the national championship with a thrilling win over Seton Hall.
Michigan ditched the interim tag, and Fisher led Michigan to two more Final Fours before being fired over a recruiting scandal in 1997.
Frieder coached at Arizona State until 1997, when he was fired for a point-shaving scandal involving his players.
4. Julen Lopetegui
Team: Spain’s national soccer team
What happened: Just days ahead of the 2018 World Cup, Spain’s soccer federation fired head coach Julen Lopetegui one day after he announced he would leave to coach Real Madrid after the tournament.
Bottom line: Julen Lopetegui’s saga began with his decision to leave the national team for club power Real Madrid for three times his salary.
Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales was incensed by the move. "The federation cannot be left outside the negotiation of one of its employees. … If anybody wants to talk to one of our employees, they have to speak to us, too," said Rubiales, who was vilified for the move after stories began to circulate that the players had requested that Lopetegui be allowed to stay.
Top assistant Fernando Hierro was promoted to replace him as Spain made it out of group play but lost to Russia in the first round of the knockout stage.
3. George O’Leary
School: University of Notre Dame
What happened: Georgia Tech’s George O'Leary was hired as Notre Dame’s head football coach and resigned days later after it was discovered he’d falsified parts of his resume dating back 20 years.
Bottom line: Less than 24 hours after Notre Dame announced George O'Leary’s hire, the Manchester (New Hampshire) Union Leader found a copy of the questionnaire he’d filled out as an assistant coach at Syracuse 20 years earlier.
On the questionnaire, O'Leary indicated he’d lettered in football three years at the University of New Hampshire (he never played a game) and obtained a master’s degree from New York University — lies which he continued to perpetuate over his career.
Notre Dame asked for O’Leary’s resignation and hired Stanford’s Tyrone Willingham, who was fired after three seasons.
O’Leary coached at the University of Central Florida from 2004 to 2015.
2. Mike Price
School: University of Alabama
What happened: Mike Price was fired as Alabama’s head football coach before he ever coached a game because of several off-field incidents, including one infamous night with two Florida strippers.
Bottom line: Mike Price seemed like a home-run hire in Decembrer 2002. After leading Washington State to two Rose Bowl appearances in five seasons, he signed a seven-year, $10 million contract to coach the Crimson Tide.
Early on, Price received several warnings from university officials about his late-night drinking in Tuscaloosa until the other shoe dropped.
In May 2003, Price was in Pensacola, Florida,for a pro-am golf tournament and went on a drinking/strip club binge. Two strippers racked up massive room-service bills on his hotel room tab, then talked with Sports Illustrated about a night of wild sex with the married Price.
He was fired within days.
1. Tim Johnson
Team: Toronto Blue Jays
What happened: After his first season as manager of the Blue Jays, Tim Johnson admitted to lying about his military service and was fired four months later.
Bottom line: Tim Johnson led the Blue Jays to their first winning season since 1993 and did so in large part by leveraging his Vietnam war experience as a credential, using it to motivate players and, in some cases, shame other coaches. One problem — Johnson never fought in Vietnam.
When he admitted to the lies, along with lying about being an All-American high school basketball player with a scholarship offer from UCLA, the Blue Jays stuck with him. Four months later, the questions about Johnson weren’t slowing down, and he was fired.
The Blue Jays hired Jim Fregosi, and Johnson spent the next 20 years managing mostly in the Mexican League.