5 Youngest NFL Head Coaches in History: Does Age Matter?

Dan Campbell headshot

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Following a disappointing 1-3 start to the 2015 NFL season, the Miami Dolphins decided it was time finally time to make a change. The team fired head coach Joe Philbin, the first head coach in the National Football League to be canned this season (but not the last).

Considering the odds hadn’t been in his favor for quite some time, the Dolphins’ decision to cut ties with their coach since 2012, wasn’t much of a shocker. However, the organization’s choice to name tight ends coach Dan Campbell as the new interim head coach for the remainder of the year, that certainly was.

Although this may be Campbell’s first foray into the world of head coaching, he’s not lacking for experience; Campbell is a 10-year NFL veteran, having played tight end for the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, and Detroit Lions. This should help him manage a locker room that has apparently fallen apart at the seams. Of course, that doesn’t mean his new role won’t come with its fair share of obstacles.

Not only as Campbell never been anything more than a position coach, but at 39 years old, he now becomes the youngest current head coach in the National Football League. While Campbell has a great opportunity to show he’s the right man to replace Philbin on a permanent basis, on the flip side, should things not go as planned, he could very well prove that he’s not quite ready to handle the demands of the top coaching position. No pressure.

Fortunately for Campbell, there have been plenty of young NFL head coaches to come before him. Here’s a look at the five individuals who got their chance at the earliest age.

5. David Shula, Cincinnati Bengals

David Shula during the Bengals training camp

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  • Age at signing date: 32 years, 7 months
  • Date of birth: May 28, 1959

Prior to the start of the 1992 season, the Cincinnati Bengals hired David Shula to be the team’s head at the age of 32 years, 7 months. While Shula remained in the position until 1996, he only lasted seven game into his fifth season in charge. By the time his tenure with the organization was over, Shula’s record was an abysmal 19-52.

4. Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Raheem Morris looks on during a game against the Panthers

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  • Age at signing date: 32 years, 4 months
  • Date of birth: September 3, 1976

When the Tampa Bay handed the coaching reins over to Raheem Morris in 2009, he was only 32 years, 4 months in age. Unfortunately, his time in the role was short-lived. After three seasons as the Bucs’ head coach, and an overall record of 17-31, Morris was subsequently fired by the organization. Not to worry, he’s still doing big things as the current assistant head coach/defensive passing game coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons.

3. John Michelosen, Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers helmet

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  • Age at signing date: 32 years, 2 months
  • Date of birth: February 13, 1916

John Michelosen was the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1948-51. At the time of his hiring, he was only 32 years, 2 months in age. Despite the winning tradition usually association with this franchise, Michelosen was unable to deliver the expected results. He would finish his stint in Pittsburgh with an overall record of 20-26-2.

2. Harland Svare, Los Angeles Rams

Rams fans with sign

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  • Age at signing date: 31 years, 11 months
  • Date of birth: November 25, 1930

Harland Svare got his first shot as a head coach in the National Football League with the Los Angeles Rams at the age of 31 years, 11 months. He would be with the team from 1962-1965, but could only manage a 14-31-3 record. Svare’s final stint as an NFL head coach was with the San Diego Chargers. Unfortunately for him, the tenure only lasted from 1971-73, resulting in a final record of 7-17-2.

1. Lane Kiffin, Oakland Raiders

Lane Kiffin looks on during Raiders training camp

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  • Age at signing date: 31 years, 8 months
  • Date of birth: May 9, 1975

In one of the more shocking coaching hires the NFL has ever seen, the Oakland Raiders tapped Lane Kiffin to be the team’s new head coach in 2007. While he had been a member of the USC Trojans coaching staff for six years, Kiffin was just 31 years, 8 months at the time he took over the reigns in Oakland. Despite becoming the youngest NFL head coach in the modern era, Kiffin would end up being fired after Week 4 of his second season with an overall record of 5-15.

All statistics are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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