Two years ago, Bernie Lincicome, a sports reporter at the Rocky Mountain News began his look at the anti-youth movement in NFL coaching by quipping, “Hello, Marv? Buffalo Bills calling“.
He was more right than he could have known: while at age 80, Marv Levy won’t be returning to coach the team he took to four Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s, he is being brought in as their new general manager:
Shortly after being introduced as the Buffalo Bills’ general manager, Marv Levy decided to come clean about something that happened the last time he interviewed for a job with the team.
Levy acknowledged that he fudged on his age when landing the Bills’ head-coaching position some 20 years ago.
“Mr. Wilson maybe doesn’t know this, but way back when I was first hired in 1986, I was 61 years of age,” Levy said Thursday, referring to Bills owner Ralph Wilson. “It sounded too old, so I lied and said I was 58.”
The Hall of Fame coach had nothing to hide upon his return to Buffalo where he enjoyed his greatest success in leading the Jim Kelly-led Bills to an unprecedented four straight Super Bowl appearances in the 1990s.
Referring to himself as “an 80-year-old rookie,” Levy eagerly accepted the challenge of resurrecting his beloved team that’s coming off a 5-11 season and missed the playoffs for the sixth straight year.
“My enthusiasm is unbounded,” said Levy, who becomes the NFL’s oldest front office executive.
And then came the first of many jokes.
“They say two things happen when you get older. One is you begin to forget things,” Levy said, before pausing. “And I can’t remember what the other one is right now.”
Later, when asked if he believed he had the physical stamina to do the job, Levy put his hand to his ear and said with a smile: “Would you repeat that question?”
But don’t let his age fool you.
“The age factor means nothing to me,” said Levy, noting he runs 3 miles five times a week. “I’m old enough to know my limitations and I’m young enough to exceed them.”
That, however, didn’t prevent the 87-year-old Wilson from getting into the act, introducing Levy by saying: “I’m very proud to bring some youth to this organization.”
Smiling, Wilson added: “With me and Marv, you can nickname us in the pro football world, the Two Golden Boys.”
Wilson and Levy — with help from then-Bills GM Bill Polian, now the Indianapolis Colts president — were golden once before. Wilson is betting it can happen again, hiring Levy a day after firing team president and general manager Tom Donahoe for failing to build a playoff contender during his five-year tenure.
Levy’s hiring provides Wilson a trusted confidante and a respected presence to an organization that, at times, alienated fans under Donahoe.
“We’re bringing Marv back so that he can bring a stability to the Buffalo Bills,” Wilson said.
With a 112-70 record, Levy is the winningest coach in Bills history and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2001. Since retiring in 1997, Levy has worked mostly as an NFL broadcaster while living in his native Chicago.
Levy will be responsible for the Bills football-related decisions. He will also act as a mentor for coach Mike Mularkey, who was retained despite struggling in his second season.
As Lincicome’s article implied, the NFL’s an interesting place: while the average player’s professional lifespan is quite short, those who can successfully make the transition to coaching and the front office can often work deep into their golden years. Witness the careers of Levy, Parcells, Schottenheimer, Vermeil, the late Sid Gillman and George Halas, et al.