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Age won't factor into fate of Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris

Raheem Morris is the NFL’s fourth-youngest coach ever.

Raheem Morris is the NFL’s fourth-youngest coach ever.

The coach was too young, and the job was too big. Time was, everyone agreed on that.

After all, the guy had only been in the NFL for a few seasons, and he had spent most of that time coaching defensive backs. What made anyone think he was the guy to recharge a franchise that had won a championship only a few seasons earlier?

As it turns out, the guy's name was Don Shula. Looking back, yeah, he was old enough.

A generation later, there was another young coach. He, too, had his work cut out for him. Anyone could see that.

Still, he was young, he was bright and, at the time, he seemed like a logical enough choice to develop a young quarter­back. Why shouldn't a franchise take a chance?

Turns out, that guy was David Shula. In hindsight, perhaps he could have used a bit more preparation.

That's the thing when it comes to young coaches in the NFL.

It's hard to know exactly when they're ripe. As a society, we seem to prefer young to old in most things. But when it comes to our surgeons, our pilots and our head football coaches, most of us seem to prefer a little salt in the beard, thank you very much.

And now that you asked, yes, Raheem Morris is still just 32.

Maybe you heard about it.

This coming week, when Morris leads his Bucs into training camp, his age will again be a question that follows behind. In his six months on the job, Morris has been asked a thousand times whether he is ready, but let's face it, until the league starts keeping score, there is no sufficient answer.

After all, Morris is the fourth-youngest head coach in NFL history. His experience is limited — he was a defensive coordinator for about 11 minutes before being promoted to head coach. For crying out loud, there are Backstreet Boys who are older.

So can a coach be too young?

"I don't think age is a factor,'' said Mark Dominik, the Bucs' general manager. "If you're listing the top 10 reasons why coaches don't succeed, I don't think age is among the top 10. Mike Tomlin is having success as a young coach, and Dick Vermeil had success as an older coach.''

Here's my gut feeling: If Morris fails, it won't be because of his birth certificate. If he fails, it will more likely be because the owners weren't committed enough, or the front office wasn't smart enough, or the quarterback wasn't special enough, or the defense wasn't strong enough. Like most first-year coaches, Morris has some things to prove, but the rest of the Tampa Bay franchise has bigger questions to answer than he does.

For the record, the four youngest men who have coached in an NFL game all struggled. Together, Lane Kiffin of the Raiders, Harland Svare of the Rams, John Michelosen of the Steelers and David Shula of the Bengals had one winning season in 17. That's hardly an endorsement for a youth movement.

Ah, but if you look at John Madden of the Raiders, Don Shula of the Colts and Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin of the Steelers — all only a bit older than Morris when hired — and you see a fistful of Super Bowl rings.

So do a few months make that much of a difference in a coach's maturity?

Or, perhaps, are other factors at work?

The answer is obvious. As much as we like to talk about head coaches, the NFL is a place where the solid organizations usually win. That has never changed.

Think of how solid the Raiders were, for instance, when Madden took over. The previous two seasons, they had won 25 games. And in his 10 years of coaching, Madden's quarterbacks were Daryle Lamonica and Ken Stabler.

Don Shula? The Colts had become a .500 team over the three seasons before his arrival, but they still had Johnny Unitas, Ray Berry and John Mackey. Shula won more games than anyone, partially because he had more Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Unitas, Bob Griese and Dan Marino).

Cowher and Tomlin? Much of their success is because the Pittsburgh organization has become one of the most successful in the NFL.

On the other hand, a bad organization can chew up a young coach in a hurry. The Raiders were bad when Kiffin came, and they were bad when he left. The Bengals were awful with or without David Shula.

Were they too young? Looking back, maybe neither Kiffin nor Shula were old enough to know they should wait for a better offer.

Often, those coaches get stuck with a high-priced rookie quarterback and their time runs out while the quarterback tries to grow up. Kiffin had JaMarcus Russell. David Shula had David Klingler. Even Svare had Terry Baker, the former Heisman winner who flopped in the NFL.

So what does this say about Morris? Is he closer to Don Shula's situation or to David's? Are the Bucs closer to the Raiders who were taken over by Madden or those taken over by Kiffin? The truth is probably somewhere in between. The Bucs weren't in the same disarray as the recent Raiders or the old Bengals, but they don't have a lot of Hall of Famers roaming the halls, either.

Morris does have some disadvantages. He, too, has a No. 1 draft choice at quarterback. The front office has some proving to do, too. There are questions about the owners.

Is Morris too young?

Put it this way: If things don't work, he's going to get old in a hurry.

NFL's all-time youngest coaches

Coach  Team  Age when hired  Record

Lane Kiffin  Raiders  31 years, 8 months  5-15

Harland Svare  Rams  31 years, 11 months  21-48-5 *

John Michelosen  Steelers  32 years, 2 months  20-26-2

Raheem Morris  Bucs  32 years, 4 months  —

David Shula  Bengals  32 years, 7 months  19-52

Josh McDaniels  Broncos  32 years, 8 months  —

John Madden  Raiders  32 years, 10 months  103-32-7

Don Shula  Colts  33 years, 0 months  328-156-6 *

Al Davis  Raiders  33 years, 6 months  23-16-3

Joe Collier  Bills  33 years, 7 months  13-16-1

Bob Snyder  Rams  33 years, 11 months  6-6

Jim Trimble  Eagles  34 years, 3 months  25-20-3

Jon Gruden  Raiders  34 years, 5 months  95-81 *

Bill Cowher  Steelers  34 years, 8 months  149-90-1

Joe Kuharich  Cardinals  34 years, 8 months  58-81-3 *

Norm Van Brocklin  Vikings  34 years, 10 months  66-100-7 *

Mike Tomlin  Steelers  34 years, 10 months  22-10

Joe Schmidt  Lions  34 years, 11 months  43-34-7

Eric Mangini  Jets  34 years, 11 months  23-25

Mike Shanahan  Raiders  35 years, 6 months  146-98 *

* Record includes stints with other teams

Age won't factor into fate of Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris 07/25/09 [Last modified: Sunday, July 26, 2009 12:55am]

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