Sure they're ageist, unpopular and politically incorrect, but age limits ought to be the law in coaching. And the cutoff, cruel as it sounds, should be 60. If you're any younger than that, you shouldn't be allowed to coach.
Do you really wonder why? This is a miracle year for the Miracle-Eared. When 72-year-old Jack McKeon was hired to manage the Marlins in May, he said, "I feel like I'm 45." When Florida beat the San Francisco Giants in their National League Division Series, he said, "I'm down to 38." McKeon's life is rapidly becoming a reverse auction, and right now the floor's the limit. Do I hear...30?...21?...18?
Yankees coach Don Zimmer was surely feeling younger than his years last Saturday when he heckled, then nearly haymakered, impudent Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez. Alas, at 72, Zim now needs the Clapper to turn your lights out. While his verbal abuse quickly gave way to gerbil abuse, Zim did very nearly strike a blow for the ages. And the aged.
In football, 66-year-old Dick Vermeil has the unbeaten Chiefs bifocused on the Super Bowl. Bobby Bowden had an undefeated team at Florida State before losing to Miami last Saturday. Of course, the man is 73. At that age, "Dadgummit" is not only his signature expletive, but it's also what his sons say when serving him corn on the cob.
Professional coaching is, at its pinnacle, a gerontocracy. At 68, Scotty Bowman was the oldest thing on ice not named Walt Disney. In 2002, he retired with no worlds left to conquer, having won nine Stanley Cups. Now, strangely, the NHL doesn't have a single coach older than 60, though the league's best team, Ottawa, does have a G.M.—former coach John Muckler—who will turn 70 this season. Only Strom Thurmond was an older Senator.
Muckler is a few months younger than Hubie Brown, who got his Caesar haircut from Caesar. Hired last November to coach the then 0-8 Memphis Grizzlies, Brown was—like Dr. Manette in A Tale of Two Cities—recalled to life. "He sounds like a teenager rearing for his first date," Grizzlies president Jerry West said the day he hired Brown, who is old enough to have coached in two Pyramids: Memphis's and Cheops's.
Yet he did get Jason Williams—heretofore exclusively interested in no-look, no-think passes—to play defense. He somehow won 28 games with the Grislies, not least because X's and O's are coursing through Brown's bloodstream. Indeed, this may literally be so, if you count Vioxx, Fixodent and Minoxidil.
The same month Brown was hired, the Giants signed ex-Expos manager Felipe Alou, 68, who said something interesting: "I'm happy for the elderly." For what is, in life, retirement age has become, in sports, refinement age.
Previously, Alou had been replaced in Montreal by 68-year-old Frank Robinson, though Wayne Terwilliger has navel lint older than him. Last season, at 78, Twig managed the Fort Worth Cats of the independent Central League to a division title. It was his 55th season in baseball—his career is now eligible for an AARP card—which explains how, as a Washington Senator, he once singled in a game-winning run off... Satchel Paige.
It is said that in old age you needn't avoid temptation, because temptation will avoid you. That is surely part of the appeal of older coaches. At 66, South Carolina's Lou Holtz is more likely to be felled by a hip joint than a strip joint.