Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Generation Xs and Os

Lane Kiffin, offensive co-ordinator at USC, was named head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Kiffen will be 32 when he takes the field for his first regular season game come September, which makes him either the youngest or second-youngest coach of modern (post WWII) NFL times.

This fact will have no effect on Kiffin's career. History teaches a coach's age or lack of same has no effect on his ability to win or lose in the NFL.

There are 18 men inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as coaches. The median age for when they first became NFL head coaches is 39. Nine were younger when they got the job, nine older. By a happy coincidence, future Hall of Famer Bill Belichick was exactly 39 when he became the Browns' head coach in 1991.

Three immortal mentors were actually YOUNGER than Kiffin when they first became NFL head coaches, but that fact's a bit of a cheat. Fritz Pollard, 27, and Curly Lambeau (yeah, that Lambeau), 21, were player-coaches in pro ball's fly-by-night Roaring '20s. George Halas, 25, was a player-coach-owner-league founder his first season running the Bears.

However, consider the ages of some more contemporary Hall of Fame coaches when THEY first accepted the headset of high office. Don Shula was 33 when the Colts hired him in 1963. Chuck Noll was 37 when he took the Steelers' job. Hank Stram was 37 when he became the first head coach of the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs. Paul Brown was an ancient 38 when he became founder-coach of his namesake Cleveland Browns, but we must remember Brown had already been head coach at Ohio State at age 34. At the time, that was an infinitely higher-profile, higher-significance job than working in pro ball.

Kiffin's age, therefore, is no barrier to his enjoying a long and successful career as an NFL head coach. Where Kiffin will be working, however, is more than a barrier, it's a guaranteed sinkhole. The Raiders are a study in dysfunction. If the set of HBO's "Rome" was decorated with much more silver and black, the show would be an exact representation of life in the Oakland front office.

Kiffin may well be only 32 on Opening Day. Come December, that won't be a problem for him. By then, Kiffen probably won't look a day over 102.


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