Hippocampal cell assemblies coding for past, present and future events form theta-timescale (~100 ms) sequences that represent spatio-temporal episodes. However, the underlying mechanisms remain largely unknown. We recorded hippocampal and entorhinal cortical activity as rats experienced backward travel on a model train. Although the firing fields of place cells remained stable, the order in which they were activated in the theta sequence was reversed during backward travel. Thus, hippocampal cell assemblies coordinated their relative timing to correctly predict the sequential traversal of place fields in reverse order. At the single-cell level, theta phase represented distance traveled through the field, even though the head of the rat was oriented opposite to travel direction and entorhinal head-direction cells maintained their preferred firing direction. Our results challenge most theoretical models of theta sequence generation in the hippocampus.