How the Titans franchise once hired a coach worse than Urban Meyer

The franchise may have made the worst hire in NFL history.
Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans
Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans / Justin Ford/GettyImages

Tennessee Titans fans have had a good deal of AFC South incompetence from their division rivals to mock over the last few years, specifically as it relates to head coaching misfires. The Urban Meyer disaster made the Jacksonville Jaguars a pariah.

Meyer was unable to translate his college success over to the pros, posting just two wins that he was lucky to achieve amid a string of controversial actions. Meyer is just one of many former college greats who fell on their face when they tried to have success in the NFL.

Unfortunately for Titans fans who claim their Houston Oilers heritage, they may have started the trend of hiring college coaches that were out of their depth. Before Meyer, Bobby Petrino, Dick MacPherson, Dennis Erickson, and Bud Wilkinson, there was Bill Peterson of the 1972 and 1973 Oilers.

Bill Peterson was the worst coach in Titans and Oilers history

Before coming to Houston, Peterson was regarded as a tremendous college coach at Florida State. FSU was an all-women school until 1947, depriving them of a strong football tradition. Peterson came in and turned them into a respected regional power. Peterson made it to four bowl games in the 1960s.

Peterson was also renowned for his ability to assemble a strong coaching staff. At various points in his time at Florida State, he had Bobby Bowden in charge of the wide receivers, Bill Parcells manning the linebackers, and Joe Gibbs coaching the offensive line.

Peterson's acumen didn't follow him when he took the job in Houston at Rice. Despite a 3-7-1 record, Oilers owner Bud Adams gave Peterson an "almost lifetime" contract worth close to $1 million. This was a sharp changeup in Adams' mindset, as he used to burn through coaches.

Despite the fact Houston had a few AFL championships to their name, Adams had gone through six head coaches in 12 years. After AFL title winner Wally Lemm was let go and Ed Hughes (later the offensive coordinator on the 1985 Bears) was 4-9-1 in the prior season, Adams decided Peterson's ability to build a program up was worth hiring.

Almost immediately, Peterson proved to be completely overmatched. While he was dealing with a very young team, a quarterback room consisting of two (eventually) very successful pros in starter Dan Pastorini and backup Lynn Dickey should have been more than good enough for him to win games. Hall of Famers like wide receiver Charlie Joiner and defensive end Elvin Bethea were hanging around as well.

After two defeats by a combined score of 64-30 against Denver and Miami, Peterson's Oilers would win a 26-20 nailbiter against the New York Jets. Pastorini threw for 278 yards and a touchdown, while running back Willie Rodgers had 96 total yards to lead the offense.

Why is this significant? That would be the only game Peterson ever won with the Oilers. He went 1-18 in his career, losing his next 16 contests going into the 1973 season. Even Meyer can claim two wins under his belt. This was as shambolic a two-season stretch as any team in NFL history has ever endured.

The Oilers ranked 25th out of 26 teams in both offense (trailing only a 2-11-1 Eagles team) and defense (a 3-11 Patriots team beat them out). Houston scored 10 or fewer points seven times, and they allowed at least 23 points nine times. The last game of this season was a 61-17 beatdown in which the Bengals had three pick-sixes.

No player ran for more than 400 yards that season, which is shocking during a time when the ground game reigned supreme in the pros. Pastorini threw just seven touchdown passes and was picked off 12 times. Oilers quarterbacks threw 10 touchdowns and 23 interceptions all season long.

1973 was, somehow, worse. After five losses to begin the season, giving up at least 24 points in all of them and topping 24 themselves just once, Peterson was fired. Then-executive VP Sid Gillman, a legendary coach who revolutionized passing games with the Chargers, went just 1-8 after the firing, as the roster was too depleted and broken.

Oilers quarterbacks threw 11 touchdowns against 27 interceptions, and no player ran for more than 600 yards. While Gillman helped the offense finish 23rd, their league-worst defense gave up an astounding 31.9 points per game.

Only twice did an opponent score fewer than 24 points, hitting 34 or more points in a game six times. Considering the era they played in, this defense has a legitimate case to be the worst in the history of the NFL.

Bill Peterson went 1-18 with the Houston Oilers

It would be hard to find a player who didn't believe Peterson was a miserable failure.

Kicker Mark Moseley called Peterson "really a mess." Bill Curry, a fantastic Colts center in his time and a successful college coach at schools like Alabama and Kentucky for 16 years, thought Peterson was intimidated by the pro game. Bethea used to be irritated that Peterson called him "Alvin" and never remembered his name.

Pastorini, who called Peterson "the biggest joke I've ever been involved with in my life," jokingly bemoaned the fact he didn't go into baseball with the Mets after being drafted in high school. Considering how he took most of the slings and arrows on the field, his displeasure is more than justified.

Peterson's malaprops became infamous for how he butchered the English language. He would frequently tell players to "stand on their helmets with the sidelines under their arms," "pair up in groups of three," and "line up in a circle."

Peterson was introduced to a whole new generation of fans thanks to social media, as clips of his Sisyphean battles with diction and public speaking manifested in one of the most brutal locker room speeches ever. If you can make it through the entire thing, more power to you.

Peterson never coached again after this nightmare of a stint with Houston. While he did eventually become an athletic director at UCF, no team would touch him ever again.

Brighter days for the Oilers (and the Titans, as a result) weren't far behind. The pairing (that's two people, ghost of Bill Peterson) of Bum Phillips and Earl Campbell made them nationally relevant and set many franchise records that still stand.

Things may not be amazing for the Titans right now, but fans can rest easy knowing the lows of the Peterson era will never be duplicated no matter how hard someone tries.