Benching your best defensive player in the Super Bowl, starting Nathan Peterman and more horrible coaching decisions. 

By Michael Shapiro
December 17, 2018

It’s fun at this time of the year to look back on the best of the past 12 months, but it can be more fun to look at the worst. This week, SI.com will be laughing, cringing and shaking its head at some of the worst things in sports from 2018.

We all love to second-guess coaching decisions. Whether it’s in a bar or sitting on our couch, it’s easy to determine whether a team should have gone for it on fourth down or pulled their starting pitcher after the sixth inning. It’s easy to excoriate a coach after the fact, not having to live with the consequences of their decisions. “Hindsight is 20/20” is an appropriate saying in the sports world.

Let’s not pretend these coaches are completely above criticism, though. Sometimes their decisions are so shocking, so obviously wrong, that calling in a host of armchair quarterbacks is perfectly fair. So where were the couch coaches better than the real thing in 2018? We decided to rank the ten worst coaching decisions of the year, from the gridiron to the hardwood.

10. Mark Richt’s QB management

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If his quarterback decision making is any indication, it would be tedious ordering dinner with Mark Richt. The Hurricanes head coach waffled on his starting quarterback throughout the season, unable to settle on senior Malik Rosier or redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry for the leading gig. After siding with Rosier to start the season, Richt turned the job over to Perry in Week 5, showing little patience with the signal caller who led Miami to ten wins in 2017. But after a pair of picks in Week 7 against Virginia, Richt yanked the starting spot back to Rosier.

Neither quarterback was very effective, while Perry did throw seven more touchdowns as each QB tossed five interceptions. It was a disappointing year all around for the Hurricanes, who finished 7–5, 4–4 ACC.

9. Thunder starting Melo

Carmelo Anthony was probably more suited to work with a Big 3 in 2010, but OKC decided to give it a shot in 2017, trading for Melo in September after he outwore his welcome in New York. Billy Donovan gave him a starting spot with Oklahoma City rather than making him a leading bench option, and the results were largely disastrous. Anthony scored a career-low 16.2 points per game, shooting an unsightly 40.5% from the field. The Thunder were eliminated by Utah in the first round of the West playoffs, and Anthony was unceremoniously bought out. His stint with the Rockets this season has somehow been worse.

8. Hue Jackson declaring Tyrod Taylor the starter

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Far from a noted tactician like Belichick, Hue Jackson went into 2018 unwilling to accept a quarterback competition, naming Tyrod Taylor the Browns starting quarterback ahead of No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield in the preseason. Heisman Trophy be damned, Taylor earned Jackson’s trust to end Cleveland’s 17-game losing streak.

The Taylor era (or error) ended quickly when he went down with a concussion in the first half of Cleveland’s Week 3 game against the Jets. Mayfield came in to lead the Browns to their first win since 2016 and was installed as the starter moving forward.

Jackson’s tenure ended shortly thereafter, getting fired on Oct. 29 after going 3–36 in three seasons. Mayfield, meanwhile, is a candidate for Rookie of the Year, already winning more games this season than the Browns had in the previous three combined. 

7. James Franklin running up the middle on a do-or-die fourth-and-five vs. Ohio State

Squaring off against the 4–0 Buckeyes, Penn State battled to the final minute, facing a fourth-and-five at the Ohio State 43-yard-line with 1:16 remaining. With a first down needed to keep the victory within reach, Franklin tried to pick up the yardage by going right up the gut of the Buckeyes defense.

Junior running back Miles Sanders averaged just 2.7 yards per carry that night against a stout OSU defense and didn’t even come close to gaining the five yards he needed on this crucial play. A pass play, or maybe something that got fleet-footed quarterback Trace McSorely out in space, would have been a better call. Instead, Penn State’s hopes were dashed on one of the least imaginative calls of the season.

6. Leonard Hamilton not fouling with FSU down four with 12 seconds left vs. Michigan in the Elite Eight

Teams in the NCAA Tournament are known to fight until the very end, remaining competitive to the final buzzer. Well, unless that team is coached by Leonard Hamilton.

Florida State’s head coach called off Seminoles defense with 12 seconds left against Michigan in the Elite Eight, ceding defeat after falling down just four points. A victory was unlikely, but Hamilton robbed the Seminoles of a chance at their first Final Four since 1972.

5. Jason Garrett punting in OT

Jason Garrett doesn’t have to worry about being confused for Doug Pederson anytime soon. Unlike his daring NFC East counterpart, the Cowboys head coach opted to punt in overtime against the Texans on Oct. 7, ceding possession at 4th-and-1 at Houston’s 42. Garrett defended his position by calling the down-and-distance, “a long one [yard],” opting to rely on his defense to slow Deshaun Watson and the Texans. Garrett’s decision quickly backfired, as Houston marched down the field for a game-winning field goal with 1:50 left in overtime.

4. Mike McCarthy punting on fourth-and-2 with 4:20 left

In what essentially boiled down to a must-win game, armed with one of the best quarterbacks of all-time, Mike McCarthy decided to punt. The former Packers head coach ceded the ball to Russell Wilson and the Seahawks down 27-24 with 4:20 left in Week 10, hoping for a stop in order to give the ball back to Rodgers.

Seattle ran out the clock with a trio of first downs, closing out a victory as Rodgers fumed on the sideline. It was one of the last gasps of the McCarthy era. He was fired two weeks later after a home loss to the Cardinals.

3. Belichick sitting Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl

It’s slightly inexplicable looking back that the Patriots didn’t win Super Bowl LII. Tom Brady threw for 505 yards, facing off against an Eagles quarterback who had previously won just 29 career games. But three Nick Foles touchdown passes—and one Philly Special later—and the Eagles brought home their first Lombardi Trophy in a 41-33 victory.

As Philadelphia shredded New England’s porous secondary, Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler sat on the sidelines, benched for what are still unknown reasons. Belichick knows best in nearly all situations, but his stoic discipline against Philadelphia may have cost him a sixth Super Bowl victory.

2. Kirby Smart’s fake punt vs. Alabama

Nobody will criticize Georgia head coach Kirby Smart for a lack of imagination. Tied at 28-28 with 3:04 remaining, Smart dove into his bag of tricks and called a fake punt at midfield. The logic wasn’t completely flawed. Cede the ball back to Alabama, and risk Jalen Hurts driving right down the field to win the game as time ticked away. But the particulars of Smart’s call doomed the Bulldogs.

Smart opted for the fake punt on 4th-and-11, calling a designed run to the upback, quarterback Justin Fields. The Crimson Tide eyed Fields—who doesn’t usually play on special teams—immediately upon his entry to the field. The freshman was quickly swallowed up after a two-yard gain, and Alabama scored two minutes later, reaching the College Football Playoff for the fourth-consecutive year.

1. Sean McDermott starting Nathan Peterman

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The Pittsburgh product’s first start of his career was disastrous, a six-completion, five-interception performance against the Chargers in November 2017. But Peterman’s nightmare rookie year didn’t dissuade Bills head coach Sean McDermott for giving Peterman another shot on opening day 2018. McDermott believed strongly enough in Peterman to trade away A.J. McCarron before the start of the regular season and name Peterman the starter ahead of Josh Allen.

The results were as expected. Peterman went 5–18 for 24 yards and two picks against the Ravens, losing 47–3 on Sept. 9. After an injury to Allen, Peterman got another start on Nov. 4 and fared slightly better. He threw for 188 yards on 49 attempts, tossing in three picks for good measure. After that, McDermott and the Bills brass decided they’d seen enough. Matt Barkley, signed off the street just weeks earlier, was named the starter and Peterman was cut once Allen was healthy enough to return. 

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