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How Old is Too Old for Championship College Football Coaches?

At age 46, Florida head coach Urban Meyer announced what was in effect a retirement from coaching. He chose to walk away from one of the better head coaching jobs in America to spend more time with his family. Meanwhile, coaches like Joe Paterno at age 84 and Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer at age 64 are still going strong.

The question is, who will wind up being the out-lier and who will be the trend. I believe coaching has become a young man's game and you'll see more and more coaches like Meyer choose to step away at a relatively young age while coaches like Paterno and Beamer, who have stuck around for a long time, will become the exception to the rule.

To judge this, I looked at the ages of the head coaches of every national championship team since 1960. 

What I was most surprised by is that Beamer is only five years older than Nick Saban, Pete Carroll and Mack Brown. However, another surprising thing was how much those five years can mean. First up, we're going to look at how the average age of championship coaches has changed through the years.

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.

With Bowden's two titles, which came at age 70 and 64, in mind we'll next break down the ages of championship coaches by age range. 

Age Span Champs
< 40 5
40-44 9
45-49 9
50-54 14
55-59 9
60 + 5

Bowden's two titles account for 40 percent of the championships won after the age of 60. The other three were Bear Bryant and age 65 and 66 and Joe Paterno at age 60. If the Hokies were to win a national title under Frank Beamer, it would be the sixth national title since 1960 won by a head coach at age 60 or older.

If Tech were to win the title next season, it would come at age 65 for Beamer, which would make him the oldest coach to win his first national championship since 1960. Bowden won his first title at FSU at age 64, in his 28th season as a head coach and his 18th season at FSU.

Beamer just completed his 30th season as a head coach and his 24th at Virginia Tech. So, if the Hokies were to win a title under Beamer, he would have to make history as one of the oldest head coaches to win a national championship.

Coaching in D1 college football has become a young man's game because of the demands on time required of head coaches, particularly in the area of recruiting. Can the Hokies win a title under Frank Beamer? Certainly. But it would go against the trend from the last 51 years, where the average age of championship coaches has stayed close to the average of 51 years old throughout the years with the exception of Papa Bowden.

I was pretty surprised how relatively consistent the ages were when broken down by decade because I expected the trend to go from older to younger as the years progressed. It turns out most title teams have been coached by guys around the same age throughout the last 51 years.