Detroit Lions Coaches – A brief history by numbers

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When watching sports games, it’s hard to know where to place the blame when your team loses. Is it the players fault? Or does the blame end with the coaching staff? Last season, the fans of the Detroit Lions wrestled with coaching errors and player failures.

table of total coach wins

Total Wins For Each Detroit Lions Coach. Data From

Under the coaching of Jim Caldwell, in his second year, the team had seven wins and nine losses. The first eight games the team had only won a single game, which was cause for Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi to be fired. With the installation of Jim Bob Cooter as the new Offensive Coordinator, the Lions finished the final eight games with six wins and two losses.

It is hard to place blame on a coach for the turn out of an individual game. They may have blown a call or thrown an ill-timed challenge flag, but coaching blame generally comes from trends. When you look at Caldwell’s overall record his win/loss percentage ranks with some of the best coaches in Lions history. With a sample size of 2 seasons, this could change drastically but for now he is one of eight coaches to be above .500 in the team’s history.

The most prolific coach is Wayne Fontes who coached the team from 1988 to 1996. He won 67 games, which is the most for any Lions coach. Although he won the most games he also lost the most games at 71. His overall win/loss percentage is below .500 at .486 for the total games he coached of 138.


Data from

Although his overall record isn’t very impressive, Fontes was a standout coach for the team. He won coach of the year from the Associated Press in 1991 when he took the team to 12 regular season wins. The team went on to get one of their few post season wins, but lost the NFC championship game against the Washington Redskins. Fontes took the team to the playoffs three more times during his tenure as coach.

Arguably the best coach for the Detroit Lions was Buddy Parker, who in the course of six seasons led the team to 47 regular season victories, three post season victories, and two national championships. His win/loss percentage is the highest of any Lions coaches at .671 through 76 games from 1951-1956.

Buddy Parker “was credited with having developed the quarterback Bobby Layne and introduced the two minute offense,” wrote the New York Times. “A system under which teams make a series of plays in rapid succession. Under his leadership, the Lions won the league title in 1952 and 1953. They lost to Cleveland in the title game of 1954.”

The Worst Coach?

When it comes to the worst coach the Lions have had there are quite a few options to pick from. John Karcis in 1942 replaced Bill Edwards after he lost the first three games of the season. Karcis went on to coach the team for the final eight games and into their first winless season. In 2001 Marty Mornhinweg began coaching the Lions, winning only five games of the 32 for the two seasons he was there. While Rod Marinelli was coach from 2006 to 2008 the team had only 10 wins. He also oversaw the teams second winless season, the first for an NFL team since the season was expanded to 16 games.

The most consistent losing coach was Jim Schwartz, who over five seasons only brought the Lions to a winning record once. He coached from 2009 to 2013, charged with fixing the team after going winless under Marinelli. Of his total 81 games with the team they saw victory 29 times, making the playoffs only once. Schwartz has the most losses of any coach with six years or less with the team. He is only beaten in losses by Fontes and Monte Clark, who coached two and three more years with the team.

The current coach, Caldwell, has a win/loss percentage of .545 and has 18 wins with the team. Though last season was disappointing for fans, Caldwell still has a chance to prove that he is the best coach in the past 20 years for the Lions. Team owner Martha Ford spared him in the major cuts she made to the team last season, so hopefully he will get the support he needs.

Nathan can be found on twitter at @natecheat; why not join the discussion about this and all our other articles in our Reddit community?

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About the Author

Nathan Cheatham
Nathan Cheatham grew up in downriver Detroit, and after much traveling landed in Hartford, CT. A journalism major, he has been writing news for the past four years. You can see examples of it at and contact him at A newer football fan, Cheatham became a Detroit Lions fan soon after the 0-16 season. An avid Fantasy Football enthusiast, he has been running his own personal league for nearly 10 years. Regardless of what some might say, he is convinced the Lions will have Super Bowl Victory next year!