Are Older NFL Head Coaches Out of Place in Today's NFL?

John RozumCorrespondent ISeptember 14, 2012

August 29, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin gestures towards an official during the third quarter of a preseason game against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE

When Bill Parcells returned to the Dallas Cowboys for 2003 NFL season he was 62 years old.

Big D went 10-6 that season, but lost in the NFC Wild Card round and Parcells went just 24-24 over the next three seasons.

So, are the older coaches out of place in modern-day pro football?

Well, the Big Tuna is just one prime example of the game having passed by the older coaches.

However, a guy like Tom Coughlin is certainly an exception after having won two Vince Lombardi Trophies in his sixties. Then again, we must keep in the mind that there are always exceptions to the rule.

From an all-encompassing perspective, though, the older a coach gets the tougher success becomes. Of course, that doesn't guarantee a coach will falter as he ages, either. We must remember that another reason why Parcells flopped in Dallas was him being away from the game for the previous three years. In short, getting older doesn't entirely jeopardize a head coach's place in the modern NFL.

It's being away from the game that is most detrimental.

He was a veteran coach with four previous Super Bowl appearances, three of them wins. Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins is another example of a coach whose lengthy absence was a major obstacle to a successful return to the NFL.

After having led the Redskins to four Super Bowl appearances (three wins) between 1981 and 1992, Gibbs sat out from 1993 through 2003. Returning at age 63 in 2004, he had Washington make two postseason appearances in his second stint.

Unfortunately, Gibbs never got past the NFC Divisional Round so, compared to his first stint, his second go-around was a failure.

Having said all this, there are a number of variables that determine just how successful a coach is after returning to the sidelines: ability of the team, draft position and schedule.

Having few standout players combined with a difficult schedule will make a coach's return a difficult one. Drafting successfully is the surest way to rebuild a bad or mediocre team, but in today's NFL, does ownership and an aging coach have the patience to see the process through?

Getting back to the current older coaches...Coughlin is the NFL's oldest right now at age 66. Bill Belichick (60) and Mike Shanahan (60) aren't much younger but still boast impressive resumes.

The NFL of now compared to last century's NFL is quite different, though.

Coaches simply lasted a lot longer during the 20th century—few more notable than Tom Landry, Chuck Noll and Don Shula. Even if a coach was hired in the 1990s and their tenure carried over into the 2000s, impatience would kick in fast if limited success occurred.

When Shanahan took over the Denver Broncos in 1995 he won two Super Bowls in the late '90s, but only made it as far as the AFC title game once after that (2005). Shanahan was gone three years later after 14 seasons in Denver. Belichick has been with the Pats since 2000 and New England's been to five Super Bowls.

Though these are tenures of significant length when compared to that of other modern coaches, they pale in comparison to that of Landry, Noll and Shula.

At its core, consistent success in the NFL comes down to coaching.

The only way a coach ever really let's the game him pass by is if they are actually out of the game long enough. Minuscule details change quite a bit from season-to-season, so it simply a matter of keeping up to speed at all times.

For his part, Shanahan was only away from the game for one season before joining the Redskins, who do appear to be on the upswing.

Regardless of age, those who never let the game get away are also those who don't fall out of place.


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