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Youngest Head Coaches in Professional Sports History

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The Los Angeles Rams’ hiring of Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay is a record-setting move. At 30, McVay (above, center with Rams COO Kevin Demoff and general manager Les Snead) becomes the youngest head coach in NFL history, but history shows that the deck may not be stacked in his favor.

At the college level, many young coaches have proven very successful. Bear Bryant started at 32, as did P.J. Fleck, Minnesota’s new head coach after leading Western Michigan to an undefeated regular season and Cotton Bowl berth. In basketball, Bob Knight became the head coach of West Point at 24 and Brad Stevens took over at Butler at 30.

But in the pros, success with young coaches can be mixed, especially when a team sets a record with its hire. Prior to McVay, here are the youngest head coaches in the first of the four major professional sports.


Lane Kiffin, 31

Oakland Raiders (2007-08)

The late Raiders owner Al Davis was known for handing the keys to the franchise to coaches in their 30s. The great ones included John Madden, Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden. Kiffin is not on that list. When Davis hired the then-offensive coordinator from USC, he made him the youngest head coach in the modern-NFL era. Kiffin then proceeded to go 5-15 and was fired four games into the 2008 season. His falling out with Davis was so bad that the Raiders owner called him a “flat-out liar” who “brought disgrace to the organization.” Kiffin went on to be head coach at Tennessee and USC and did not prove Davis wrong. He rebounded as offensive coordinator at Alabama and the college football world will be curious to see how he fares as head coach of Florida Atlantic this fall.


David DeBusschere, 24

Detroit Pistons, (1964-67)

DeBusschere is one of the best forwards in NBA history and in 1964, the Pistons decided to go with the current practice of the period and make him a player coach. This was common in the NBA from the late 1940s to ‘70s. For example, Bill Russell won two championships as a player-coach for the Boston Celtics in the 1960s. DeBusschere was not as successful, going 79-143 over three seasons. He was traded to the New York Knicks, where he won two titles as a player. He then went on to serve as commissioner of the American Basketball Association, where he helped bring about the merger with the NBA, and general manager of the Knicks before passing away from a heart attack in 2003.


Lou Boudreau, 24

Cleveland Indians (1942-50)

An eight-time All-Star shortstop, Boudreau became player-manager of the Indians prior to the 1942 season and is the most successful coach on this list. He went 728-649 in nine seasons with the Indians, won the 1948 World Series (the last championship won by the Tribe) and is credited with inventing the infield shift. Boudreau went on to manage the Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Athletics and Chicago Cubs. He then served as the Cubs’ play-by-play radio announcer until 1987.


Gary Green, 26

Washington Capitals (1979-82)

The youngest head coach in NHL history had started his career at the age of 21 and won two championships with the Ontario League’s Peterborough Petes. He then went to coach the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. When the Capitals, the Bears’ NHL affiliate, fired head coach Danny Belisle 16 games into the 1979-80 season, Green was promoted. The 26-year-old did not do much better than Belisle, going 50-78-29 in three seasons. After being fired 13 games into the 1981-82 season, Green took up broadcasting. He is currently an analyst on “NHL on the Fly” on the NHL Network.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

(Top photo by Jeff Lewis, courtesy of