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John Fox went 13-3 in 2012, 13-3 in 2013, and then 12-4 in 2014 as head coach of the Denver Broncos. But with a 2-3 playoff record during that time, John Elway shockingly fired the head coach.

As Bill Barnwell noted, it’s very rare for a coach as successful as Fox to be fired. While Barnwell took a big picture view, I thought it would be interesting to look at coaches who were fired immediately after a successful season: in this case, winning 12 or more games. As it turns out, it’s happened just two times before in NFL history. Marty Schottenheimer was fired by San Diego after going 14-2 in 2006, but losing in the team’s first playoff game to New England. And Jimmy Johnson was allowed to move on despite going 12-4 and winning a second consecutive Super Bowl in 1993.

The table below shows all coaches who won at least 10 games (or had a winning percentage of at least 0.625) in a season from 1970 to 2013, but who were not patrolling the same sidelines a year later:

YearTeamCoachRecordWin%Reason
2006SDGMarty Schottenheimer14-20.875Fired
2011NORSean Payton13-30.813Suspended
1999STLDick Vermeil13-30.813Retired
1990NYGBill Parcells13-30.813Retired
1975CINPaul Brown11-30.786Retired
2008INDTony Dungy12-40.75Retired
1996SFOGeorge Seifert12-40.75Resigned
1993DALJimmy Johnson12-40.75Jerry Jones
1978NWEChuck Fairbanks11-40.733Resigned
1977RAMChuck Knox10-40.714Fired
1998GNBMike Holmgren11-50.688Resigned
1996NWEBill Parcells11-50.688Traded
1980HOUBum Phillips11-50.688Fired
1970RAMGeorge Allen9-4-10.679Fired
1982NYJWalt Michaels6-30.667Resigned
1977WASGeorge Allen9-50.643Fired
1976DENJohn Ralston9-50.643Resigned
1977CHIJack Pardee9-50.643Resigned
2012CHILovie Smith10-60.625Fired
2005KANDick Vermeil10-60.625Retired
1990PHIBuddy Ryan10-60.625Fired
1988SFOBill Walsh10-60.625Retired
1986KANJohn Mackovic10-60.625Fired
2002SFOSteve Mariucci10-60.625Fired
2001OAKJon Gruden10-60.625Traded
1988CLEMarty Schottenheimer10-60.625Mutual

So yeah, Fox is in some pretty exclusive territory. The Johnson situation was its own animal, and I suppose some could argue that George Seifert was fired (he was quasi-pushed out by the 49ers, who were not interested in giving him the job security he coveted). But Denver moving on from Fox, while perhaps not the wrong move, is still quite surprising. Fox has not been immune from criticism — he was certainly not the perfect coach — but teams simply don’t fire coaches who are this good. By doing so, Elway has really opened himself up to a significant amount of criticism if this backfires. Given that, I applaud Elway for at least not being too afraid to make the unpopular decision.

On another note, the 2014 Broncos may soon join be in rare territory for another reason, as Denver may see both of their coordinators be hired as head coaches. Today, Jack Del Rio was hired as the Oakland Raiders head coach, while rumors continue to swirl that former offensive coordinator Adam Gase will be named the new head coach in San Francisco. Since 1990, only four teams have seen both their coordinators in one season be NFL head coaches in the following season.

The 1994 49ers are one such team. That year, the offensive coordinator was Mike Shanahan, while the defensive coordinator was Ray Rhodes. But in 1995, Shanahan was head coach of the Broncos, while Rhodes was the head coach of the Eagles.

In 1998, Dick Jauron was the Jaguars defensive coordinator, while Chris Palmer was the team’s offensive coordinator. After the season, both were hired as head coaches: Jauron with the Bears, and Palmer with the expansion Browns.

The 2006 Chargers also show up on this list, too, making them a stunning parallel for the 2014 Broncos. That year, the offensive coordinator under Schottenheimer was Cam Cameron, while the defensive coordinator was Wade Phillips. After the season, Schottenheimer wound up working for ESPN, while Cameron and Phillips became the head coaches in Miami and Dallas, respectively.

In 2013, Jay Gruden was the Cincinnati offensive coordinator, and Mike Zimmer the team’s defensive coordinator. In the following offseason, Gruden was hired by Washington, and Zimmer went to Minnesota.

  • I say totally break the mold and try to land Kevin Kelley.

  • James

    How did the teams on the table do the next year compared to the 10 win teams that kept their coach?

    • Richie

      I bet most teams won fewer games.

      Then again, the majority of teams that win 10+ games in one season will win fewer the next season.

      • Different James

        Right, both are expected to regress some. But we have a big enough control sample size to compare against.

  • Richie

    Marty Schottenheimer was fired by San Diego after going 14-2 in 2006, but losing in the team’s first playoff game to New England.

    If I have my facts straight – they lost that game because Marlon McCree didn’t take a knee after intercepting a pass? So, if McCree doesn’t do something stupid, the Chargers go to the AFC Championship game (at least), and Marty probably doesn’t get fired?

    It always amuses me when somebody gets blame/credit for something that they didn’t have any direct input in happening. (I realize that, theoretically, if Marty had “coached better” in that game that it wouldn’t have come down to McCree’s fumble.)

    • Ty

      Marty was probably going to get fired, no matter what (from San Diego). AJ Smith wanted his guy (Norv Turner), and Marty wanted to have his son as coordinator for the team (AJ Smith didn’t approve of that).

  • mrh

    And Fox is responsible for Peyton’s thigh injury.

    • mrh

      Although Elway probably won’t hire Norv as a replacement

  • nick bradley

    you forgot Mariucci, 10-6 in 2002.

    • Chase Stuart

      Thanks — I had inadvertently left off any coach (including Mooch) who was a head coach for a different team the following year. I have updated the post.

      • RustyHilgerReborn

        Do you know how many of these coaches won playoff games the year they were fired? I always thought Mariucci’s situation stood out as unusual because he actually won a playoff game in 2002.

  • David

    I wish more coaches had the “Jerry Jones” reason.

    • James

      A hilarious but accurate reason!

    • Me, too! Also interesting that so many coaches (4) appear on the list twice: Parcells, Vermeil, Schottenheimer, Allen.