As the NFL season winds down it is time to reexamine the health of the league and its teams. That means it’s also time to take a look at the league’s moribund franchises and list the worst owners to get their grubby hands on teams.
This list combines every aspect of being an owner, it is not just about results on the field. Treatment of the fanbase has a big impact, as does the general embarrassment an owner might cause for his franchise and city.
We tried to go with 10. We couldn’t justify leaving any of the owners listed below off, though. How lovable are this group of owners? Mike Brown, the notoriously cheap Bengals owner who was the face of horrible ownership for two decades, doesn’t even crack this list anymore.
11. Mark Davis, Oakland Raiders
Al Davis’ son may have the franchise headed in the right direction with a solid young core, a potential lucrative move to Los Angeles (or somewhere else) and no terrible contracts on the books. So why is he on this list? The hair.
I’m fully convinced Davis is actually a vampire, because no one who had a reflection would allow himself to walk around with that haircut. He looks like Prince Valiant’s ginger brother. If you walked into any other business and the owner had Davis’ haircut, you’d turn around and walk out without even talking to him.
His father may have run the franchise into the ground and made it a national laughingstock, but Mark hasn’t done much to improve the team’s image with the salad on his dome.
On top of that, Davis (like a few others on this list) has completely turned his back on his fanbase as he eyes a move south to LA-LA land. Oakland deserves better than Davis’ weak attempts to move.
10. Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys
Oh yeah, Jerry gets on this list. The same guy who called Greg Hardy a “leader,” has retained the truly awful Jason Garrett after six mediocre seasons and has always preferred to make a splash over the solid football move.
Jones took over the team in 1989 and immediately fired Tom Landry, the only coach the franchise had ever known. He replaced him with Jimmy Johnson, who he promptly ran off after back-to-back Super Bowl wins. Jones took the Cowboys to insane highs in the 90s, winning three Super Bowls and being the undisputed dominant team of that era. But since then Dallas has been no better than average.
While he built an immaculate stadium for his fans in Arlington, he hasn’t exactly put a solid product on the field for them to watch. As his team’s general manager he has repeatedly botched big-money signings and entire drafts, and barely dodged drafting Johnny Manziel. He also refuses to dump the wholly average Jason Garrett, despite there being plenty of better options out there. Garrett is 45-43 in five-plus seasons as the team’s head coach and has reached the postseason just once.
On top of all that, Jones has a penchant for cavorting with strippers and looks to have had a terrible facelift. That just ups the embarrassment factor for Cowboys fans.
9. Zygi Wilf, Minnesota Vikings
Where to start with Zygi Wilf? Well, he looks unnervingly like Snidely Whiplash and employed Mike Tice, Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier as head coach for nine of the 11 years he has owned the team. All of that is mildly terrifying.
Not only is Wilf incredibly creepy, he also used the threat of a move to Los Angeles in an attempt to extort a new stadium out of the state of Minnesota. And guess what? It worked! Yes Vikings fans, you will be getting that lovely $1 billion stadium built largely by public money, while you reap almost no rewards from it. Enjoy!
Wilf, his brother Mark and a cousin were also found liable by a New Jersey court for violating civil state racketeering laws and fleecing former business partners of shared revenue. The judge presiding over the trial claimed that Wilf used organized crime-like tactics to commit the fraud. Organized crime in New Jersey? Now I’ve heard everything.
The Wilfs were forced to pay $84.5 million in damages as a result of the trial.
So he extorted Minnesota for a publicly-financed stadium, defrauded his former business partners and might be the reincarnation of Dudley Do-Right’s nemesis. The man is a true triple threat.
On the field, the Vikings look to be on the way up. They won the NFC North this year and Mike Zimmer appears to be a solid choice as a head coach. But under Wilf’s direction, the franchise has won just one playoff game in 11 years.
8. The Ford Family, Detroit Lions
All you need to know about the Ford family is that William Clay Ford, Sr. finalized his purchase of the Detroit Lions on November 22, 1963…the same day John F. Kennedy was killed. That should have been a sign that this wouldn’t end well.
Lions fans have a long and contentious relationship with the Ford Family, and its management of the franchise has been downright awful. The Lions have only been to the postseason twice this century, haven’t won a division title since 1993 and haven’t won a championship since the family purchased the team. The Lions are also one of just four teams to never even reach a Super Bowl. Since the Fords took over, the franchise has won just one playoff game. One playoff win in 52-plus years!
The Fords also couldn’t convince Barry Sanders to continue playing, as the franchise’s greatest player and most marketable asset retired at 30 years old. History could be repeating itself with Calvin Johnson this offseason.
So yeah, you can understand why Lions fans want the Fords to sell the franchise.
These are the same people who employed Matt Millen as team president for a disastrous seven-year stretch during which the team went 31-81, including a perfect 0-16 in 2008.
When William Ford, Sr. passed away, his son Bill and wife Martha Firestone Ford became more hands-on with the franchise. Bill was deeply involved in the hiring of current head coach Jim Caldwell (who went 7-9 this year), and was part of the family’s decision to hire Rod Wood as the team’s new president. Wood even admits he’s not a “football guy.” I guess he’s the perfect person to run the team for the Fords, since they clearly don’t understand the game either.
7. Jed York, San Francisco 49ers
Jed York was appointed by his father to be president of the 49ers at the age of 28 in 2008. Thanks dad! In 2012, he was replaced as president by Gideon Yu, but is still the team’s CEO.
Since York took over the team, the 49ers have a 62-49-1 record (not bad), but without Jim Harbaugh as their head coach, they are just 26-38 (yeesh). With Harbaugh, San Francisco went 44-19-1, won two division titles and went to a Super Bowl and two NFC title games. Yet when it came time to choose sides between general manager Trent Baalke and Harbaugh, York went with Baalke, and continues to back him despite several disastrous decisions.
Baalke is York’s blindspot. We all have them, but Baalke will continue to bring the 49ers down with him. He has made awful personnel decisions, helped run off Harbaugh, then hired Jim Tomsula to replace him. Bringing Tomsula in after Harbaugh was like trading in a Bugatti Veyron for a 1971 Chevy Vega. Not surprisingly, Tomsula barely lasted a year.
While I think new 49ers head coach Chip Kelly possesses a brilliant football mind, he could wind up being a disaster as the new head coach in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Colin Kapernick is still owed some guaranteed money on the ill-advised contract extension Baalke gave him, and the roster is a mess from top to bottom.
York is the classic rich guy who thinks he knows football but really doesn’t. His first move should be canning Baalke, then hiring a real, experienced general manager who can completely take over football operations.
6. KSA Industries, Tennessee Titans
KSA Industries sounds like the evil corporation from a Bond movie, and given how they’ve handled the franchise over the last few years, Titans fans probably feel the same way.
After firing the completely incompetent Ken Whisenhunt this season, the franchise replaced him with Mike Mularkey on an interim basis. Mularkey proceeded to go 2-7. When it came time to hire a new head coach after the season, they decided on…Mike Mularkey. Because as I’ve always said, any time you have a chance to hire a guy with an 18-39 career head coaching record, you do it!
So after guiding the team to 5-27 record over the last two seasons the group running the franchise hired someone who is 9-32 in his last three seasons as a head coach. As the prophet Isiah (Thomas) once said, “It’s so crazy that it just might work!”
While the team is still run by the Adams family (no, not that one), there is clearly very poor leadership at the top. Drafting Marcus Mariota was a step in the right direction, but with zero roster development and no front-office continuity the team is an absolute dumpster fire right now. Titans fans are so upset they’re even rapping about it.
5. Stephen Ross, Miami Dolphins
Ross finalized his purchase of the Dolphins in January of 2009 and since that time the team has failed to reach the postseason. The Dolphins are 49-63 since Ross took over and the decisions he has made have hamstrung the franchise at every turn.
Ross lost Bill Parcells as his head of football operations because the venerable coach didn’t want to deal with him. He kept former general manager Jeff Ireland around for far too long, before finally firing him in 2014. How bad was Ireland? Aside from being a constant embarrassment to the franchise, fans protested him for years and now he can’t even get a decent front office job. Instead he’s a college scout for the New Orleans Saints.
Ross fully backed former head coach Joe Philbin, despite a complete collapse of any team identity and a lack of leadership following the Jonathan Martin bullying scandal. Now he has Mike Tannenbaum running football operations. That’s the same Mike Tannenbaum who traded fourth- and sixth-round picks to the Denver Broncos for Tim Tebow, and handed Mark Sanchez a three-year, $40.5 million extension in the same offseason while with the Jets.
The immensely talented Adam Gase has been hired as Miami’s new head coach, so maybe there is a light at the end of the insanely long tunnel Ross has created. But with Ndamukong Suh and Ryan Tannehill eating up $40.24 million in cap space by themselves next season, it’s going to take a lot of creativity for the Dolphins to improve quickly.
4. Dean Spanos, San Diego Chargers
In case you’re new to the game, I’m not exactly a big fan of Dean Spanos. He’s a lying, manipulative billionaire who wants a cash-strapped city to fully fund a new stadium for a franchise he has mismanaged to a depressing degree.
Aside from completely abandoning a fanbase that supported his team for 55 years, Spanos is the same guy who has been behind the firing of Marty Schottenheimer following a 14-2 season, the hiring of one of the worst head coaches in NFL history in Norv Turner, and continuing to pay the incompetent head coach/general manager combo of Mike McCoy and Tom Telesco.
Spanos and the Chargers have wasted Philip Rivers’ brilliant career by surrounding him with subpar coaches and a complete lack of talent on offense. The offensive line has been nothing more than a punchline for several seasons and Spanos continues to employ people who refuse to fix it.
When you consider that he wants to move the Chargers to Los Angeles – where absolutely no one wants them – it’s truly a wonder Spanos hasn’t blown all of his money on beachfront property in Nevada. I’m amazed the guy can tie even his shoes in the morning.
3. Stan Kroenke, St. Louis Los Angeles Rams
Stan Kroenke was born in Missouri, has three degrees from the University of Missouri and loved the state so much that he helped former owner Georgia Frontiere move a football team to St. Louis from Los Angeles. Oh, and he just moved that same football franchise out of Missouri without so much as a head-nod to the people of his home state. That’s cold, man.
Kroenke made his fortune the old-fashioned way: he married into it. His wife is Ann Walton Kroenke, the daughter of Walmart co-founder James “Bud” Walton. So Kroenke is sitting on an enormous pile of cash but is moving the Rams to Los Angeles because he wants even more. While Angelenos are thrilled to have the NFL back in town, they shouldn’t be so psyched to have him as the new owner in town. Why? Because he’s awful.
Since Kroenke took over as the owner of the Rams in 2010, the team has gone 36-59 and been hamstrung by poor coaching and mismanagement. The guy just isn’t a good owner and now he has punched St. Louis in the face and walked away.
When you combine his recent actions with that horrendous mustache/toupée combo he’s got going on, he races up this list. Kroenke is just the kind of guy to be so out of touch that he probably doesn’t realize we all know he’s wearing a rug. That just makes him even worse.
Oh, and he might have a serious bladder issue.
2. Daniel Snyder, Washington
Let’s just get this out of the way: the team’s name is from another era and needs to be changed. It’s offensive and has no place in our lexicon. That said, Dan Snyder is a terrible owner for about seven-dozen reasons other than his team’s name.
Aside from making numerous horrendous football moves, Snyder has slowly, systematically refused access to Washington media outlets that don’t kowtow to his wishes. When Dave McKenna at the Washington City Paper brilliantly skewered him in 2010, Snyder sued. Because this is America and not the Soviet Union, the suit was later dropped, but the notoriously thin-skinned owner already had his next move ready. The Washington Times and Redskins announced a partnership in 2014, which essentially gave Snyder his own media outlet.
Snyder purchased the team in 1999 and since then, Washington has reached the postseason just five times, and only won two playoff games, the last coming in 2005. He has employed eight different head coaches during his 17-year ownership of the franchise and has made some of the most disastrous football moves they league has ever seen.
Snyder signed off on giving Albert Haynesworth a seven-year, $110 million contract, the mammoth defensive tackle only lasted two seasons in D.C. Snyder’s obsession with aging stars has shown up with his signings of Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders and a trade for Donovan McNabb. The guy has zero football sense.
While the team reached the playoffs this season, Snyder is far from finding redemption. When the economy took a downturn in 2008 and 2009, he actually sued season ticket-holders who couldn’t pay their bills. Snyder banned all signs at FedEx Field in 2009 because so many were critical of him (the ban was later lifted after backlash from fans). I could go on and on, if you’re not convinced by now, just take my word for it, Snyder is one of the worst owners in professional sports.
1. Jimmy Haslam, Cleveland Browns
To top this list you really have to be a lowlife with zero knowledge of how to run a professional sports franchise. Luckily, Jimmy Haslam checks those boxes. Haslam is the rare sports owner who is both criminally bad at running a team and an actual criminal. His company, Pilot Flying J had to pay a $92 million fine to the government and reimburse customers to the tune of $56 million after an FBI investigation showed the company had defrauded them on gas rebates. He purchased the Browns for $1 billion in 2012 and has been just as bad at managing that business.
Let’s review some of Haslam’s greatest hits as an owner:
–A homeless man told him to draft Johnny Manziel, so he traded up for the enormous bust of a quarterback.
-Hired, then fired Rob Chudzinski as his head coach in the span of one year.
-Attempted to trade multiple draft picks to the 49ers for Jim Harbaugh and allowed details of the bungled deal to leak to the public.
-Hired Mike Pettine after several botched interviews with higher-profile candidates. Fired Pettine after just two years, and threw out general manager Ray Farmer with him.
-Banked the future of his franchise on the unholy trinity of Manziel, Josh Gordon and Justin Gilbert. That trio has been an unmitigated disaster on and off the field.
-The Browns are 19-45 since he purchased the team.
I know Haslam hasn’t had the long and distinguished tenure of being awful that some of the others on this list have, but to repeat: he’s not just bad with football, he’s a criminal. I’m sorry Browns fans, after Art Modell and Randy Lerner, you truly deserve better.