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Millions of Americans winced prior to the Super Bowl when the NFL played the “black national anthem.” But millions more Americans were inspired a few minutes later, when they saw how deeply moved one of the games’ participants was to hear the national anthem played.
I wish our politicians loved America as much as Nick Sirianni does. pic.twitter.com/wnFSG8ztJ4
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) February 12, 2023
That lachrymose man in question was Nick Sirianni, and despite a youthful appearance, he wasn’t a player for either team. Instead, Sirianni was head coach of the Eagles. Hired at just 39 and just 41 years old at kickoff, Sirianni is one of the younger coaches in the league, and a full four years younger than recently-retired GOAT Tom Brady.
But Sirianni is anything but unusual. In the last few years, NFL head coaches have gotten younger — way younger. This is a much more noteworthy trend than it seems at first glance. It’s a pattern that defies every trend in American life,
In almost every genuinely important facet of American life, the system is decaying into an ever-more-decrepit gerontocracy, with the levers of power controlled by the weak hands and enfeebled minds of the very old. The average House member is nine years older than forty years ago; the average Senator is twelve years older, with an average age of almost 64.
Major corporations used to require CEOs to retire at 65 for understandable reasons. But in September, Target ditched that policy to allow current CEO Brian Cornell to stick around longer. In October, Caterpillar did the same for CEO Jim Umpleby. Last year, Boeing upped its retirement age from 65 to 70 so that it could keep David Calhoun around.
From the onset of the Great Recession through the late 2010s, the average age of newly-hired CEOs rose by nearly one year per year, meaning that the same set of late-Baby Boomer who helped crash the economy in 2007 were also hogging top job openings near after year, without letting a younger cohort take over. From 2005 to 2017, the average age of newly-hired CEOs surged from less than 46 to more than 54 years old; newly-hired CFOs went from went from less than 43 years old on average in 2007 to 49 in 2017.
In American universities, 37 percent of faculty are over 55. In the U.S. armed forces, promotions are controlled by the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA), which requires the military to honor seniority over observed merit in making promotions within the military hierarchy. As a result, it’s basically impossible to have a superstar holding high rank any time before age 45. Of the eight members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, only Chief of Space Operations B. Chance Saltzman is younger than 59.
Rationally, all of this is obviously bad. When you get older, your brain starts to decay. You become less alert, less creative, less nimble. Whether it’s producing art, generating scientific output, or starting exceptional new businesses, brilliant minds are at their peak in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, not their twilight years.
Yet in America, there is a collective national delusion to pretend otherwise. We endure the indignity of the press insisting that Joe Biden is cognitively functional. We have an aggressive federal law, the ADEA, that bans “age-based discrimination” against anyone over the age of 40. Companies like IBM have been slapped with crushing lawsuits simply for trying to cut loose dead weight elderly employees to replace them with younger, hungrier, and more innovative talent.
America was once a country known for its youth and vigor, where raw talent could thrive without the restrictions imposed by ancient, rigid hierarchies. Now, it struggles under these hierarchies itself, and they get worse with each passing year.
Except in one area. Amid this creeping gerontocracy, this escalating domination of the dying and the decayed, there is one one major industry where the trend is in the exact opposite direction: coaching in elite sports.
The National Football League is in the middle of a full-blown youthful coaches fad. In 2017, the Los Angeles Rams kicked off the revolution when they hired Sean McVay, a thirty-year-old, as the team’s new head coach.
McVay, the youngest coaching hire since 1938, immediately revitalized the Rams, then became the youngest coach to reach (33) and win (36) a Super Bowl. McVay’s success quickly inspired imitation, and NFL teams looking for new coaches immediately began to consider very young coaches with a promising track record. From 2017 through 2022, 17 different men aged 40 or younger won head coaching jobs in the NFL. The “Sean McVay Effect” even has its own Wikipedia article.
In 2016, the average NFL head coach was 53.4 years old. In 2022, it was 48.5.
It’s not just the NFL. College football coaches are getting younger too.
So what’s the takeaway here? Simple: This is a reflection of America’s values. Winning at sports is something that Americans care deeply about, to a degree that is rather stunning if one hasn’t seen it up close. Unlike just about any other facet of American life, elite football is a real meritocracy, and a pitiless one. Nobody is entitled to a job. Winners stick around. Losers are cut loose without mercy. And if it becomes clear that youth and innovation is a path to greater success on the field, then the sport will overhaul all its traditions to accommodate this new reality.
This isn’t just visible with age. In early 2022, the Biden Administration lost Eric Lander, one of the top research doctors in the world and the head of its “cancer moonshot” program, because he “bullied” underlings. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns gave $230 million to Deshaun Watson about ten nanoseconds after he narrowly escaped criminal charges for grossly propositioning about two dozen different masseuses for sex. One might have seen Lander’s job as more critical, and thus more worthy of ignoring personal problems unrelated to work. But in America, the exact opposite attitude holds: woke virtue signaling is more important than scientific achievement, but not more important than beating the Steelers.
To be clear, as an organization, the NFL is proudly woke. Its marketing department won’t even blink before producing ads announcing that the NFL is gay:
But this commitment dies when it leaves the marketing department.
America’s top law firms, tech companies, and universities are easily browbeaten into hiring and promoting based on skin color. But in the NFL, where the same pressure exists, it has been unfathomably difficult to increase “diversity” to the level the NFL desires.
The NFL’s central office itself is plainly desperate to have coach hiring follow the rest of America by nakedly discriminating against white men in favor of blacks and even women. For twenty years the NFL has enforced the so-called “Rooney Rule,” requiring teams to interview a non-white candidate for head coaching positions, but despite that the number of black coaches is actually at the lowest level in years. NFL teams may mouth platitudes and paint “End Racism” in their endzones, but the ruthless drive to win always takes priority — as it should.
When it comes to hiring assistants, the NFL has simply given up and implemented quotas, requiring teams to hire a certain number of black or women coaches. It’s a far more honest system than exists anywhere else in American life.
After the humiliating evacuation of Kabul two years ago, we contrasted the non-existent accountability for the architects of the 20-year Afghan War disaster with the highly efficient meritocracy of NFL coaches:
Is the head coach always the problem with a bad NFL team? Obviously not. But a head coach is the highly-compensated captain of a $200 million operation, and his job is to win. Coaches who don’t win get fired, because being a perpetual, complacent loser is unacceptable.
The ongoing collapse of the U.S.-backed regime in Afghanistan is the geopolitical equivalent of an NFL team going 0-16 twenty seasons in a row. Perhaps it’s worse than that, in fact. The Afghanistan disaster is the equivalent of an NFL All-Pro team taking on a Division III liberal arts college, being shut out, and then crashing the team bus into a ditch.
But unlike an abject failure in sports or (arguably) business, there will be no accountability whatsoever for the Afghanistan disgrace. And until America rediscovers the ability to hold its leaders accountable, it will always be a nation in decline.
Two years on, this principle is truer than ever. America can still innovate, change, and achieve great things where it possesses a powerful will to do so. Sadly, the place where it possesses the most will is to win more football games.
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