Hey, Don Shula is only 86. George Seifert turns 76 this month. Marv Levy is 90. Maybe Jed York and Trent Baalke can call those gentlemen next, now that the 49ers have lost out on all top coaching candidates in their 30s, 40s and 50s and are focusing their absurdly unimpressive search on two men — Tom Coughlin, 69, and Mike Shanahan, 63 — who are almost old enough to be Jed’s … grandfather?
Hire Coughlin, and they can change the team name to 69ers.
An ageist, I am not. If Nick Saban, 64, ached to leave his Alabama collegiate dynasty and coach in Santa Clara, they should give him a blank check, half-ownership in Facebook and the Golden Gate Bridge. But seeing how Coughlin was forced out by the New York Giants after three rough seasons and how Shanahan hasn’t coached since 2013 following his firing by the Washington Redskins, pursuing them at this stage seems a reaction to swinging, missing and abject desperation.
The days since the firing of Jim Tomsula, an all-time one-and-done blunder in NFL coaching circles, only have further demonstrated that Jed and Trent are the league’s reigning executive misfits. The coach they should have hired last offseason, youthful Adam Gase, signed on quickly with the Miami Dolphins. The coach they originally coveted this offseason, Sean Payton, wisely chose to remain in New Orleans. The coach they thought would beg to come, Hue Jackson, was more aggressively wooed by the lowly Cleveland Browns, who introduced him Wednesday as their new coach. Another up-and-comer whom they could have chased, Ben McAdoo, agreed to replace Coughlin in New York. He is 38, the same age Gase will be next season.
David Shaw? He’s laughing at the farce down the highway, enjoying a no-headache, all-control reign at Stanford. He said no about two or three nanoseconds after Tomsula was ziggied.
Chip Kelly? Desperate himself, he might come for free, but Jed and Trent, creatures of industry copycat-ism if nothing else, hear the vibes that he is “toxic” after his Philadelphia crash and are avoiding him.
Jim Harbaugh? When he isn’t sending cryptic Bible verses after Tomsula’s firing — “Do not be deceived. You will reap what you sow,” he famously tweeted — he’s planning sleepovers at recruits’ homes to make sure they sign at Michigan. The best thing that ever happened to him, I’m sure he’ll agree, is not getting along with Jed and Trent.
Everyone else in the NFL? They’re just wincing at it all, wondering how a team that compounded the foolish dumping of Harbaugh with the oddballish hiring of Tomsula is about to look even more bizarre.
Coughlin would provide a stable foundation, yes, along with the credibility of beating Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in two Super Bowls. But last I saw him on a sideline, he was allowing his out-of-control star receiver, Odell Beckham Jr., to continue playing while so completely psyched out by trash-talking that he hurled punches and cheap shots at Carolina cornerbacks. Why would Coughlin, who stands for integrity and playing football the right way, cast a blind eye to a meltdown that became a national furor?
“I was very disturbed at what happened during that game and was frankly disappointed that we didn’t deal with it better on the sideline,” Giants co-owner John Mara told ESPN Radio. “I sat there watching that and I thought to myself, ‘He’s doing exactly what Carolina wants him to do. He’s losing his focus. He’s losing control.’ Sure enough, they basically took him out of the game.”
It wasn’t the first recent lapse in judgment for Coughlin, who has been an NFL head coach since 1995 — with only one year off, between jobs in Jacksonville and New York. He’s a coaching lifer who is having great difficulty accepting that his life’s work may be behind him. Asked last week if he’s finished in the profession, he said, “This is a little different situation because [his wife] Judy and I, together a long time ago, together we don’t say goodbye, we just say, next time. That’s really what I’m trying to convey here today, as well.”
Next time? Jed and Trent, faced with a flurry of rejections, saw an opportunity to save corporate face. While York went to Houston for the NFL relocation drama — while Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam was staying home to secure Jackson — Baalke interviewed Coughlin in New York. Trent wouldn’t have done so, I don’t think, had the Eagles not interviewed Coughlin first down the turnpike. As of Wednesday night, word was that Jed and Trent were waiting on Coughlin to inform them he isn’t coming so they can go hard after Shanahan — not that he’s doing much of anything but sitting at home, having been rejected by Miami in the Gase hiring and by the 49ers last January.
If we want to party like it’s 1999, sure, Shanahan excites us. If we had a wayback machine and rewound two decades, he’d certainly be a sweet coaching hire. But since his two Super Bowl titles in Denver, Shanahan has produced little in the way of success this century, unless we’re counting his Colorado steakhouse. And we’re not.
He hasn’t won a postseason game since the second Super Bowl, 17 years ago and counting. He managed one winning record in his last six NFL seasons. In his only playoff appearance the last 10 years, he allowed his pet quarterbacking project, Robert Griffin III, to play with injuries, which only exacerbated knee issues and started RG3 on a downward spiral from possible future President of the United States to unwanted Redskins castoff. After helping John Elway salvage those deathly roman-numeral losses with double rings in his career twilight, Shanahan had a falling-out in the Aughts with the QB legend, which led to Shanahan’s ouster with the Broncos and Elway’s eventual appointment as the team’s lead football chief.
The obvious question: If Jed and Trent didn’t think enough of Shanahan to hire him last time, what has changed? He is a year older, and while he might bring son Kyle, offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, in a succession plan, just what the hell has Kyle Shanahan done lately other than struggle at times in an offense with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White? Coughlin, too, might offer a succession plan involving John DeFilippo, who may be released from his Browns offensive coordinator post any hour by Jackson. DeFilippo was a low-level offensive coach with Coughlin in New York in the mid-2000s. You may have missed this, but he also was interviewed for the 49ers’ job, perhaps because he grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, hometown of York. DeFilippo, for those keeping score, is 37.
Which means he’s way too young for the big job, even if Jed is 35.
Four years ago, before stumbling into the great Harbaugh hire that he wound up sabotaging, Baalke wanted to bring in his mentor, Bill Parcells, to coach the 49ers. At present, Parcells is making his best impact by providing sharp commentary on the NFL coaching derby.
“I do know that from hearing the list available, the talent pool is a little bit thin right now,” he said.
Bill Parcells, you should know, is only 74.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.