Posted by Adam Jacobi
The Virginia Tech-centric blog Gobbler Country posted an interested study today, examining the breakdown of championship-winning coaches' ages in the modern era of college football. The question raised is "how old is too old," and excepting some obvious outliers, the answer is "younger than you think."
For the champions, I used the BCS from 1998-present, the coaches' poll from 1982-1997 and the AP poll from 1960-1981.
Time span Avg. Age 1960-69 46.4 1970-79 51.0 1980-89 48.6 1990-99 55.6 2000-10 49.9 BCS Era 55.1 1960-2010 51.3
The ages of head coaches have fluctuated from mid 40s to mid 50s since 1960, but the average has been a little over 51 years of age. However, there has been one coach that has helped break the curve. Take away Bobby Bowden's two titles and the average in the 90's shrinks to 52.8 and the BCS era shrinks to 53.8.
What's even more unsettling to programs with older coaches is the breakdown of championships by age bracket:
Not only is there a precipitous dropoff from the early 50s to 60+, those five titles were won by just three coaches: The aforementioned Bowden with two, Bear Bryant with two, and Joe Paterno -- the three most celebrated coaches of the modern era of I-A football. What's more, Bryant had won his first title at the age of 50, while Paterno won his first at 56. Bowden didn't win his first until he was 64, but that was after six straight top-five finishes in the final poll for Florida State. In other words, each of those three coaches firmly established his national championship bona fides before his 60th birthday, while every other coach who ever hit 60 in the last 50 years was quite evidently past his prime.
It's not really surprising, then, to have seen Maryland jettison longtime head coach Ralph Friedgen, who was 63 at the end of the 2010 and who clearly wasn't about to win a title at such a mediocre football school (no offense, Terps, but let's be honest). Incoming coach Randy Edsall will have just turned 53 at the outset of the 2011 season, and while one might joke that Maryland's only got two seasons of Edsall in his prime before it all goes downhill, it's not as if he's got 15 years in front of him with the Terrapins.
So with all this in mind, here are a few more notable coaches and their ages as of the start of the 2011 season. It would be incorrect to say there's a "new generation" of coaches on the move (seven years or so doesn't really constitute a generational gap) but it's pretty clear that a few of these guys aren't lasting much more than five years -- especially if they're not winning 10 games a year anymore.
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech, 64
Mack Brown, Texas, 60
Gene Chizik, Auburn, 49
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa, 56
Al Golden, Miami, 42
Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State, a man, 44
Brady Hoke, Michigan, 52
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame, 49
Chip Kelly, Oregon, 47
Lane Kiffin, USC, 36
Mike Leach, free agent, 50
Les Miles, LSU, 57
Dan Mullen, Mississippi St., 39
Will Muschamp, Florida, 40
Joe Paterno, Penn State, 84
Gary Patterson, TCU, 51
Bo Pelini, Nebraska, 43
Chris Petersen, Boise State, 46
Bobby Petrino, Arkansas, 50
Mark Richt, Georgia, 51
Nick Saban, Alabama, 59
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma, 50
Jim Tressel, Ohio State, 58
Kyle Whittingham, Utah, 51
Now obviously, not all of these schools are going to win national championships in the next 5-10 years. But by and large, most of these schools do pay their coaches a gigantic salary -- to the point that the expectation of competing on a national level is inevitable. If a coach is struggling in his fourth or fifth year with a program, is an athletic director going to be more apt to fire the coach if he's 57 instead of 47? Is that age discrimination, or common sense?