In recent years, the NFL has seen a golden age of quarterbacking, with plenty of great old and young players at the position in the league at the same time. It’s also a golden age of coaching, with great young coaches complemented by men who are literally in their golden years.
Today, Patriots coach Bill Belichick joins Seahawks coach Pete Carroll as pro football’s pair of septuagenarians. Neither has shown any sign of even beginning to slow down.
Still, everyone has a limit to what they can do. George Halas retired from coaching at 73 because he had an arthritic hip that prevented him from fulfilling the physical demands of the job. Belichick, and Carroll, still can do it all — from the in-game movements to the non-stop grind, during the season and throughout the offseason.
Beyond the ability to do the job, anyone who coaches after 70 has to do the job well enough to keep it. If there’s any slippage at all, the older coach could be held to a higher standard as an owner becomes infatuated with the possibility of a younger head coach, state and federal prohibitions on age discrimination be damned.
It’s hard to imagine Belichick slipping enough to not be an NFL head coach. Even if the Patriots were to decide at some point to move on — and owner Robert Kraft has been surprisingly candid of late regarding his disappointments with draft choices and three years without a playoff win — Belichick would have other teams lining up for his services. Even if it would take a good five years for him to get the entire program where it needs to be.
However long he coaches, his current motivation is obvious. He knows that he needs to show that he can compete for championships without Tom Brady, especially since Brady has won one without Belichick. Brady could win more. The apples-to-apples comparison between Belichick and Brady will continue as long as both are in the league. At a time when both would otherwise be thinking about pulling the train into the station, the engines keep churning out thick clouds of burning coal.