This morning, the Washington Post’s sports page featured an article called (in the paper edition) “The inexperience advantage.” The sub-title was “Rams’ 33-year-old McVay embodies national trend of unseasoned leader bringing fresh ideas to job.”
Sean McVay’s success as a 33-year-old NFL coach is a remarkable story. The fact that his Rams lost the Super Bowl tonight doesn’t diminish it. But the claim by the Post’s Kent Babb that McVay is part of a “national trend” towards successful inexperienced leaders cannot be supported.
Babb tries to support it by citing Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana who recently announced his candidacy for president. Boy mayors are nothing new. Dennis Kucinich was elected mayor of Cleveland when he was 31. As for Bittigieg’s presidential candidacy, give me a call if he cracks 2 percent in the national polls.
Babb also cites four coaches under the age of 40 who were named head coaches of NFL teams for the upcoming season. The NFL is a copycat league, so it’s not surprising that several teams went looking for “the next Sean McVay.” However, none of the four has accomplished anything yet.
In reality, geezers still dominate the ranks of highly successful sports coaches. Bill Belicheck, whose New England Patriots won another Super Bowl tonight, is 66. Sean Payton, whose New Orleans Saints would have been in the Super Bowl instead of McVay’s Rams but for a horrible call, is 55.
Andy Reid, whose Kansas City Chiefs took the Patriots to overtime in the AFC championship game is, 60. Doug Peterson, whose Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl last year, was 50 at the time. Not a geezer, but certainly not a young “unseasoned leader.”
In the college ranks, two football coaches dominate. Nick Saban is 67. Dabo Swinney is 49.
What about college basketball? The last three national champions were coached by Roy Williams and Jay Wright (twice). Williams is 68. Wright is 57.
This season the top five teams in the latest coaches poll are led by Rick Barnes (64), Mike Krzyzewski (71), Tony Bennett (49), Mark Few (56), and John Beilein (65).
Steve Kerr rules the roost among NBA coaches. He’s 53.
Barry Trotz led the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup last year. “Uncle Barry” was 55 at the time.
Baseball helps Babb’s case. Alex Cora, manager of the World Champion Boston Red Sox, is only 43. A.J. Hinch, who led the Houston Astros to the championship the year before, was also 43 at the time. But the list of super-successful major sports coaches under age 40 seems to end with McVay.
Babb’s thesis fares even worse in politics. President Trump is 72. The woman who almost beat him in the 2016 election had just turned 69 when she lost.
The Vice President is 59. The Speaker of the House is 78. The Senate Majority Leader is 76.
What about the leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination? Kamala Harris is 54. Elizabeth Warren is 69. Bernie Sanders is 77. Joe Biden is 76. Amy Klobuchar is 58. Kirsten Gillibrand is 52.
Only two candidates who, at this juncture, look like semi-serious contenders are under the age of 50. Cory Booker squeaks under the line at 49. Beto O’Rourke is 46.
To be fair, both act younger.
So no, there’s no national trend in favor of young, inexperienced leaders on big time playing fields and major political battlegrounds. Babb’s thesis may have more to do with wishful thinking than with reality.
This isn’t to deny the substantial impact the younger generations are having behind the scenes. With their facility in analyzing and using data and their ability to think outside the box (or inside discredited boxes like socialism), people McVay’s age and even younger are making a difference in sports and in politics. But not under the bright lights.