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The under-appreciated Jim Hart

The under-appreciated Jim Hart

Yesterday, I noted that Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar had a 39-23-1 career record after the 1989 season, but actually finished his career with a losing record. That sounded pretty wild to me, so I wanted to investigate further.

Kosar’s Browns defeated the Steelers in the 1990 season opener, which brought his career record to 40-23-1, or 17 games over .500. But Kosar went just 13-31 over his final 44 games; after a 0.633 winning percentage in his first 64 games, he posted a 0.295 winning percentage for the remainder of his career.

So I wondered, among quarterbacks who finished their career with a .500 record or worse, does Kosar hold the record for most games above .500 at any one point? As it turns out, that honor goes to Jim Hart. Younger fans likely know very little about Hart, but he’s one of the better quarterbacks not in the Hall of Fame. He spent 18 years with the Cardinals, and made the Pro Bowl in four straight seasons from ’74 to ’77. By 1981, he ranked third all time in career passing yards and ninth in passing touchdowns. He made it into the top 50 on Brad Oremland’s list, and snuck into the top 30 on my list.

But if you look at the raw numbers, you’re likely to be unimpressed. That’s because the bulk of his career took place during the ’70s, but also because he retired with an 87-88-5 record. But as of November 20th, 1977, Hart had a 69-47-5 record, a 0.591 winning percentage. Of course, it was all downhill from there for Hart, who went just 18-41 (0.305) for the rest of his career.

The table below shows all quarterbacks1 who finished with a 0.500 or worse career record but at one point in their career were more than five games over 0.500. Let’s use the Marc Bulger line below as an example. For his career, he went 41-54-0, for a 0.432 career winning percentage. At his peak, he was 17 games over 0.500, thanks to a 28-11 record (0.718 winning percentage). For the rest of his career, though, he went 13-43, for a 0.232 career winning percentage.

QuarterbackCar WCar LCar TCar Win%Best +/-RecWin %ROC RecROC Win %
Jim Hart878850.4972269-47-50.59118-410.305
Bernie Kosar535410.4951740-23-10.63313-310.295
Marc Bulger415400.4321728-110.71813-430.232
Bert Jones474900.4901642-260.6185-230.179
Joe Namath626340.4961546-31-40.59316-320.333
Jay Cutler676700.5001254-420.56313-250.342
Joe Ferguson799200.4621222-100.68857-820.410
Mike Livingston314310.4201115-4-10.77516-390.291
Boomer Esiason809300.4621047-370.56033-560.371
Jim Harbaugh667400.4711051-410.55415-330.313
Jim Everett648900.4181030-200.60034-690.330
Ken O'Brien505910.4591020-100.66730-49-10.381
Kerry Collins819900.450920-110.64561-880.409
Greg Landry445130.464926-17-30.59818-340.346
Daunte Culpepper415900.410911-20.84630-570.345
Neil Lomax475220.475828-20-10.58219-32-10.375
Jon Kitna507400.403711-40.73339-700.358
Eric Hipple282900.491725-180.5813-110.214
Bob Avellini232700.460721-140.6002-130.133
Trent Green565700.496654-480.5292-90.182
Erik Kramer313600.463618-120.60013-240.351
Byron Leftwich242600.480623-170.5751-90.100
Jack Concannon202410.456613-7-10.6437-170.292
Shaun Hill161800.471610-40.7146-140.300
Danny Kanell101310.43868-2-10.7732-110.154
Cliff Stoudt91100.45069-30.7500-80.000

There are lots of interesting names on the list. I’ve already written about how the late-career struggles Joe Namath endured contributed to a misunderstanding of his legacy. Bert Jones is another quarterback with a great prime whose career was limited due to injury. Boomer Esiason looked like a future Hall of Fame quarterback in his late 20s, with three Pro Bowls, an AP MVP, and a Super Bowl appearance to go along with a good record. But a 33-56 finish has kept him out of Canton.

What stands out to you?

  1. Well, this includes all quarterback starts starting in 1950. []
  • sacramento gold miners

    Bernie Kosar’s decline may also have involved the wear and tear of the position, and he later went to Dallas and Miami where he wasn’t go to be the starter. Took lots of hits, wasn’t very mobile, and wasn’t as physically strong like Jim Kelly and Vinny Testaverde.

    Jim Hart’s career received a huge boost with the arrival of Don Coryell, and may have been a HOF candidate had Coryell reached him earlier, like Dan Fouts did. St. Louis had the Air Coryell offense before San Diego, it was fun to watch them during that era.

  • Daunte Culpepper came to mind when I saw this, and when I looked at his page, I was a little surprised to notice that he was 11-5 his first season as a starter… and then never above .500 in a season for the rest of his career.

    I know that the Vikings’ poor defense in his best years contributed to his just treading water around .500, but it was still a little stunning to see. Also, that brutal 5-22 finish to his career didn’t help.

    • If you sort by win % through best game, Culpepper shoots to #1 😉

  • Not on here, but Vinny Testaverde has the most wins of any QB with a losing record.

    The reason he’s not on here? Testaverde never had a winning record!

    • Here is how many games over .500 Testaverde was after each start of his career.

    • I’d say I’m looking forward to the companion post — who was the QB with a winning record who was the most games under .500 — but it’s probably going to be the answer to my old trivia question.

      • Yeah, that will probably be Thursday.

  • Richie

    Looking some more at Kosar. He (and the Browns) had a rough season in 1990. Then in 1991 they hired Bill Belichick. Kosar had a pretty good season in 1991. Probably the 3rd-best statistical season of his career. The Browns were better as well.

    In 1992, Kosar must have gotten hurt. He had a decent game in week 2, but the Browns were 0-2. Kosar missed the next 9 games. He started 5 more games that year and then was traded to Dallas after 7 games in 1993. He was 30 years old when Belihick gave up on him.

  • I wonder if there is a better way to present this data. I think this works fine for this sample, but what if I want to just measure big declines among all QBs (even QBs who finished above .500)? I think maybe adding 30 or 40 games of 0.500 ball to a QB’s play is the way to go, but not sure how to pick the right number.

    By doing it this way, Bulger really stands out (of course, he’d stand out if you just used raw winning percentages, anyway). Add 30 games of .500 ball to his early games, and he still has a 0.623 winning percentage. Add 30 games of .500 ball to his late games, and his wining percentage is still only 0.326. That’s a decrease of nearly 30%, which is remarkable given that we have added a 15-15 stretch to both marks. That beats out Hill (who drops by 20.2%) and Kosar (21.2%) by decent margins.

    I didn’t use winning percentage differential because of the small sample sizes (Culpepper, anyone?) but something like this makes sense to do as part of a follow-up post. I think. The issue is the number of games of .500 ball will be pretty arbitrarily picked.

  • Steve O’Dell

    Assumption here, of course, is that a QB’s performance and the team’s win percentage are one and the same. Gotta be a way to use DVOA or Elo to extract team performance from the QB’s?