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Monday, December 2, 2002
Updated: December 4, 12:32 PM ET
The List: Worst coaching decisions

Page 2 staff

This week, Page 2 posts its list of the 10 worst coaching decisions ever made.

Check out our top 10 skipper slip-ups. Then, be sure to vote in the poll on the right to crown the biggest blunder of them all.

1. McNamara plays Buckner
In 1986, BoSox first baseman Bill Buckner could do little more than hobble around on his bum ankles. Everyone knew that. So why didn't Red Sox coach John McNamara replace Buckner with Dave Stapleton to shore up the defense as the Red Sox headed toward victory, and a World Series win, in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series? It was a move he had made all season long. But

McNamara was being sentimental. He wanted Buckner to be on the field for the final three outs of the Red Sox World Series championship. You know the rest.

2. Dressen's call heard 'round the bullpen
What was Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen thinking? Bobby Thomson's famous 1951 homer was, in a way, predictable -- Thomson had already tagged Branca for two taters that season. The Giants, as a team, had Ralph's number -- they'd beaten Branca six times in 1951. Dodger GM Branch Rickey knew of Branca's penchant for giving up the gopher. Yet, with all this info at his disposal, Dressen picked Branca to face Thomson. And thatıs all she wrote.

Marty Mornhinweg
Marty Mornhinweg did not win a road game in two years as Lions coach.
3. Mornhinweg's boner
Ah, the one that inspired this list. Sudden-death OT, his team wins the flip, and Mornhinweg chooses to kick. Hey, the Lions get the wind at their back! But, hey! The Bears get the ball! The Lions never have a chance, as the Bears score on the first, and only, possession of OT to win the game. To quote TMQ, "Ye Gods!"

4. Miracle at the Meadowlands
1978. Giants lead the Eagles 17-12 with 20 seconds left. Eagles have no timeouts left. All NY QB Joe Pisarcik has to do is fall on the ball, and ... game over. But Giants offensive coordinator Bob Gibson calls a handoff to Larry Csonka. Csonka can't believe it when he hears the call in the huddle, and says, "Don't give me the ball." The exchange between Pisarcik and Csonka is botched. Herman Edwards snags the loose ball and runs 26 yards for the winning TD.

The next day, Gibson gets his walking papers. At the end of the season, Giants head coach John McVay is gone. And the Eagles, thanks to the Miracle, make the playoffs.

5. The Dictator's choice
Everyone remembers the USA Hockey Team's 1980 "Miracle on Ice." But what we sometimes forget is that the U.S. might not have defeated the Soviet Union in the semifinals were it not for one of the most boneheaded coaching moves in hockey history. With the score tied 2-2 at the end of the first period, Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov benched Vladislav Tretiak, the best goalie in the world, for reasons that are still unfathomable. The U.S. won, of course, 4-3. Tretiak, who led the Soviets to gold medals in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics, says he still doesnıt know why it happened. Warren Strelow, Team USAıs goaltending coach in 1980, couldn't figure it out either. "I thought Tikhonov was nuts," he said. "Absolutely nuts."

6. Russell vs. Jordan
Maybe if Utah coach Jerry Sloan had Bill Russell ... but this was 1998, so it couldn't happen. However, Bryon Russell was available, and he was the only man assigned to cover Michael Jordan during the final seconds of Game 6. In Game 1 of their 1997 playoff matchup, Sloan had gone with Russell single-teaming Jordan, and the result was a game-winner by Jordan. This is close to a repeat, except with total finality: Jazz have a one-point lead, Bulls lead the series three games to two, Russell falls down, Jordan sinks the game-winner. "When the Jazz needed to run everyone, including their mascot, at Jordan on the final Bulls' possession, to make him give the ball up, or at least make it a tougher shot, Jordan got a wide-open look," wrote
Kevin Steele eventually made some progress at Baylor, but not enough to save his job.
Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News.

7. Steele's costly attitude
Baylor had UNLV beat -- they led 24-21 with about 20 seconds left in the Sept. 11, 1999 matchup between two lousy teams. The Bears had the ball on the Rebels eight-yard line, and if they had taken a knee, the game would have been over. Instead, Baylor head coach Kevin Steele called for a run. Darrell Bush almost made it to the goal line, but UNLV forced a fumble, and the Rebels' Kevin Thomas returned it 99 yards for a touchdown.

"I have an explanation, but it doesn't hold water," Steele said after the game. "We talked about creating an attitude and getting after people. We were simply trying to create an attitude."

8. Switzer's decision
It's a frigid December Sunday at Veterans Stadium. 1995. The Eagles and Cowboys are tied at 17; Dallas has the ball on its own 29 yard line with 2 minutes remaining. Fourth down and a foot. Head coach Barry Switzer, who later said that he didn't want to punt into the wind, takes a risk, going for a first down. Philly's defense stops Emmitt Smith cold, the Eagles take over, and Gary Anderson kicks a 42-yard field goal to win the game 20-17. Jimmy Johnson, who Switzer had replaced on the Cowboys sideline, happens to be calling the game for Fox, and offers, during the postgame show, a pithy analysis of the call: "One problem is that Barry doesn't have anyone on his staff to say, 'What are you, nuts?'"

9. Dennis Green sits on it
Dennis Green
Dennis Green made one mistake we'll never forget.
The Vikings and Falcons are tied at 27 in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 17, 1999. Vikings ball, 30 seconds on the clock, third-and-three on their own 30 yard line. Minnesota still has two timeouts remaining, Falcons have none. Vikings have the most explosive offensive in NFL history. But Green decides to play it safe, and runs out the clock. He's got Randall Cunningham at QB, Randy Moss at wideout, and a pretty good chance to get the NFL's best placekicker a shot at a game-winner. But instead, Green orders Cunningham to take a knee, hoping the Vikes will get the coin flip in OT. They do win the flip, but Atlanta scores first and wins, 30-27.

"Minnesota coach Dennis Green did a great job this year," wrote SI's Peter King later that week, "but if he doesn't wake up and stare at the ceiling in the next few days and say out loud: 'Boy, I screwed that one up,' then he's not being honest with himself."

10. Bird-brained
With the Pacers and Lakers tied near the end of regulation in Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals, Indiana coach Larry Bird calls on an unlikely -- and not-too-smart, in this situation -- go-to guy. Travis Best, 5-foot-11, gets the iso call as Reggie Miller and Rick Smits stand around, twiddling their shooting thumbs. It's Best vs. Shaq, and guess who doesn't win? Best misses his shot with 2.5 seconds left in regulation, and L.A. goes on to win in OT, giving the Lakers an insurmountable 3-1 series lead. As the New York Post's Peter Vecsey wrote of the Pacers' final regulation possession, "The whole planet knows Mark Jackson should've been out there orchestrating the most important high pick-and-roll in franchise history."