Led by Andy Reid and Bill Belichick, the NFL is full of golden oldies coming off big seasons. Can Kevin Stefanski dig the Browns out of their abyss as the third youngest pilot in the league? Here's a list of head coaches who got the ball rolling in a big way when they were 30-something.

The old GOAT had plenty of company to keep him warm this past January.

Bill Belichick, 68, drove to a postseason for the 18th time in 20 years. Pete Carroll, also 68, got to the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years.

Mike Zimmer, 63, knocked Drew Brees out of the postseason. Sean Payton, 56, got the Saints to that game with a 13-3 record.

John Harbaugh, 57, had his best regular season at 14-2. Andy Reid, 62, had the best season of them all.

This is not a young man's game Kevin Stefanski is entering. Not from the standpoint 22 of the NFL's 32 head coaches preparing for the 2020 season are 44 or older. And not in light of the fact only two pilots, Sean McVay of the Rams and Zac Taylor of the Bengals, are younger than the new head coach in Cleveland.

Stefanski, 37 when the Browns hired him, turned 38 on May 8. He was seven months old when Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians was first hired as head coach of the Temple Owls.

Is Stefanski's life experience sufficient to turn around one of the worst runs in the history of pro sports franchises?

That asked, here's a list that might keep Browns fans warm. It spans generations of coaches who were hired in their 30s (with the notable exception of one fellow who was just past 40) and did unforgettable work.

It's a 10-man parade full of Browns connections and Ohio tales, set on the border of wishful thinking and real hope. Take a look.


Hired by the Cleveland Browns at age 36 in 1945

Breaking in: Recruited by founders of the All-America Football League, which didn't play games until 1946, Brown's local and national fame (national poll champions at Massillon Washington High School and Ohio State) were irresistible.

Breaking through: A mob of 35,964 overflowed Akron's Rubber Bowl for the franchise's practice-game debut against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Brown's Browns proceeded to win all four AAFC championships before jumping to the NFL and reaching six straight title games there.

Back story: Brown coached a military team, Great Lakes, for two years before World War II ended and the Browns began. He came off as smug, which chafed the NFL's old guard when he said the best teams in the AAFC were as good as any on the planet.

The NFL had been born in Canton just 30 years before the Browns joined the league in 1950. Brown's first NFL game was against smirking, 58-year-old Greasy Neal, whose Philadelphia Eagles had lost only one game the previous year. Final score: Cleveland 35, Philadelphia 10.


Hired by the Baltimore Colts in 1963, at age 33

Breaking in: The kid struggled to a 1-3 start, including losses to Hall of Famers Vince Lombardi and George Halas, but that team finished on a 5-1 hot streak.

Breaking through: In his second through sixth seasons, at the end of which he was roughly Stefanski's current age, Shula's Colts went 53-12-2. Having Johnny Unitas at quarterback helped, but when Johnny U was hurt one year, Shula milked a 13-1 season out of backup Earl Morrall — who later played a key role for Shula and the Dolphins during their perfect 1972 season.

Back story: Shula rose amid a rich psychological stew.

He had been drafted by Paul Brown in Cleveland, where his two great mentors became assistant coaches Weeb Ewbank and Blanton Collier. Ewbank left to be head coach of the Colts, with Shula on the roster. After the 1962 season, Shula replaced Ewbank in Baltimore, while Collier replaced Brown in Cleveland.

In the 1964 NFL championship game, Collier's Browns beat Shula's Colts 27-0.

Shula was 38 when he piloted the Colts to Super Bowl III, a loss to a Jets team coached by the 61-year-old Ewbank.

Shula got to Canton as a Hall of Famer after his remarkable run in Miami, but he would have arrived as a teacher and coach at Canton Lincoln High School had he not made the Browns roster when he was fresh out of John Carroll.

He died on May 4 at age 90, the winningest head coach in NFL history.

Relive Don Shula's entire Enshrinement Speech from the Class of 1997 ceremony.

Full Transcript: https://t.co/YeaUKrxltk#HOFForever | @MiamiDolphins pic.twitter.com/DzABpSdflz

— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) May 4, 2020


Hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969 at age 37

Breaking in: Noll was a Paul Brown guy (played guard and linebacker for Cleveland from 1953-59) and a Don Shula guy (defensive coordinator for Shula's Colts from 1966-68). In Noll's first game as a head coach, his Steelers beat Detroit. It was his only win that year, prior to going 5-9 in 1970 and 6-8 in 1971.

Breaking through: Noll got the Steelers to 11-3 in his fourth season, when he lost 21-17 to Shula's unbeaten Miami Dolphins in the AFC championship game. Shula claimed another championship the next year, but Noll would win four of the next six Super Bowls.

Back story: Stefanski inherits a better situation in Cleveland that Noll did in Pittsburgh. After firing Hue Jackson midway through the 2018 season, the Browns have gone 11-13 since. In the two seasons before Noll got the Pittsburgh job, the Steelers were 6-20-2.

Stefanski and Noll both landed head coaching jobs at the age of 37 immediately after postseason disappointments. The Browns hired Stefanski two days after he was offensive coordinator in the Vikings' 27-10 playoff loss at San Francisco. The Steelers introduced Noll two weeks after he was defensive coordinator of the Colts in a historic Super Bowl loss to the Jets.


Hired by the Oakland Raiders in 1969 at age 32

Breaking in: The first name in modern sports video games was an NFL head coach before the rollout of Pong. Madden's first year as head coach brought a 12-1-1 record in the final year of the American Football League.

Breaking through: Madden's first AFL playoff game (1969 season) was a 56-7 win over the Houston Oilers. His first NFL playoff game (1970 season) was a 21-14 win over Miami and its new head coach, Shula.

Back story: The 1968 Raiders went 12-2 under head coach John Rauch, who grew tired of owner Al Davis' meddling and bolted to the Buffalo Bills. Madden, now 84, had coached Rauch's linebackers for two years before Davis promoted him.

Madden was a high school head coach in his mid-20s before entering the college ranks under Don Coryell at San Diego State.

In Madden's first year as a Raiders defensive assistant, they won the AFL championship and lost to Green Bay in Super Bowl II.

Madden was 40 years old and in his seventh postseason when the Raiders went 13-1 en route to winning Super Bowl XI. He headed for a broadcasting career with a 10-year record of 112-39-7.


Hired by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976 at age 39

Breaking in: On Jan. 1, 1976, Vermeil's UCLA team beat Ohio State 23-10 in the Rose Bowl, avenging a 41-20 home loss to the Buckeyes in the regular season and costing Woody Hayes a national championship. Vermeil then was hired by the Eagles to replace Mike McCormack.

Breaking through: The Eagles were coming off nine straight losing seasons when Vermeil went 4-10 in his first year. He was 5-9 in his second year before getting to 9-7 in 1978. His next three teams went 11-5, 12-4 (Super Bowl season) and 10-6.

Background: He was a California high school head coach in his mid-20s who worked his way into the college ranks.

His high-strung personality and a players' strike in 1982 led to burnout and an exit into a broadcasting career. He returned to the sidelines in 1997, taking over a Rams team coming off seven straight losing years. He had them winning a Super Bowl in his third season, when his quarterback was Kurt Warner, who had been bypassed by the Browns in that year's expansion draft.


Hired by the Browns in 1984 at age 41

Breaking in: Schottenheimer's work as a Lions linebacker coach got him hired as defensive coordinator of the 1980 Browns. He was promoted to head coach midway through the 1984 season.

Breaking through: The Browns reached the playoffs in his first full season (1985) and made it to the AFC finals in his second full season.

Back story: It's a stretch to pull "Martyball" into the discussion of particularly young first-time head coaches, since he was past his 30s. Insofar as he was one of the NFL's youngest pilots at the time, and led the Browns to four straight postseasons, he's worth a mention.

Schottenheimer joined the Browns as a 36-year-old coordinator the year they became "The Kardiac Kids." After that 1980 season, head coach Sam Rutigliano's record was 19-31, and he was fired eight games into the 1984 season. With Paul McDonald at quarterback, Schottenheimer went 4-4 the rest of the way, then began to take off after Bernie Kosar was picked in the 1985 supplemental draft.

"Young Marty's" Browns went 46-31 from 1984-88. Since he was pushed out, 14 head coaches (including interims), have gone 151-300-1.


Hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1992 at age 34

Breaking in: After three years as defensive coordinator of the Chiefs, Cowher's first Pittsburgh team lost early (17-9) to Belichick, then went on an 8-3 run capped by a win over Belichick's Browns.

Breaking through: After an early playoff exit in 1992, Cowher's second season ended with a playoff thriller, an overtime loss to Schottenheimer's Chiefs. Cowher made it to the AFC finals in his third year and to the Super Bowl in his fourth year, at age 38.

Back story: Noll's glory days lapsed into a four-year run with a 30-34 record before he retired at age 60, replaced by Cowher.

Cowher was a Marty guy, having played linebacker in Cleveland with Schottenheimer as his coordinator, working on the Browns' staff when Schottenheimer was head coach, and jumping with Schottenheimer to Kansas City in 1989.

He was surrounded by strong coaches, including Arians, Tony Dungy and Al Saunders in Kansas City, then, in his early days with the Steelers, Dom Capers, Dick LeBeau, Marvin Lewis and Chan Gailey.

With a 15-year record of 161-99-1, he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2020.


Hired by the Oakland Raiders in 1998 at age 35

Breaking in: The Raiders had gone 4-12 under Joe Bugel in 1997 and were 8-8 in Gruden's first two seasons.

Breaking through: In Gruden's third year, the Raiders went 12-4 and reached the AFC finals, where quarterback Rich Gannon was erased by a cheap shot that got Baltimore's Tony Siragusa fined. In Gruden's fourth year, the Raiders again reached the playoffs, losing in overtime to New England in the "tuck rule" game.

Back story: Not far removed his backup quarterback days at Dayton, Gruden was 26 when he landed a job with the 49ers under offensive coordinaor Mike Holmgren. Holmgren became head coach of the Packers in 1992 and brought Gruden with him. At 31, Gruden became offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, where he spent three years with Bill Callahan as his offensive line coach.

Callahan then was Gruden's offensive coordinator for four years in Oakland. After Gruden bolted to Tampa Bay in 2002, Callahan replaced him as Oakland's head coach. They soon squared off in Super Bowl XXXVII, with Gruden’s Buccaneers winning.

Callahan, now 63, is Stefanski's offensive line coach in Cleveland.


Hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007 at age 34

Breaking in: Having gone 8-8 in Cowher's last season (2006), the Steelers won the AFC North in Tomlin's first year.

Breaking through: In 2008, at 35, Tomlin's team went 12-4 en route to winning a Super Bowl XLIII thriller against Arizona. It was Jimmy Haslam's first year as a minority owner of the Steelers.

Back story: Tomlin first coached in the NFL on Dungy's 2001 Tampa Bay staff, just seven years removed from playing at William & Mary. After Dungy got fired, Gruden became head coach and kept him on as defensive backs coach. The Buccaneers made five interceptions in a rout of Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Tomlin left the Bucs in 2006 to be defensive coordinator of the Vikings, who had hired a young assistant named Kevin Stefanski. The '06 Vikings went 6-10; yet, the Steelers saw fit to bring in Tomlin. Tomlin's first game as a 34-7 rout of Romeo Crennel's Browns in the 2007 opener.

Tomlin heads for his 14th season with a record of 141-81-1.


Hired by the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 at age 30

Breaking in: Following a 10-year run in which the Rams went 46-113-1 (the Browns were 48-112 in those years), they were 11-5 in McVay's first season.

Breaking through: The Rams got off to an 11-1 start in McVay's second season, featuring a 54-51 win over the Chiefs late in the run. They cruised into the playoffs and won at New Orleans in the NFC finals before falling to New England in Super Bowl 53.

Back story: McVay became the youngest head coach in modern NFL history in 2017. The distinction had belonged to Lane Kiffin, whose brother Chris Kiffin is Stefanski's defensive line coach in Cleveland.

McVay was a Washington assistant from 2011-13, when his boss was offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. McVay replaced Shanahan as coordinator in 2014, when Shanahan wound up in Cleveland.

McVay was 22 when he took a job in 2008 with Gruden, a family friend.

It helps Stefanski that his father is a big-picture thinker as personnel chief of the NBA's Detroit Pistons. McVay's family training is more job-specific, in that his grandfather, John McVay, was general manager for five 49ers teams that won Super Bowls.

The Haslams detect some of Stefanski's outward traits (intense, meticulous, distance-runner fit, immaculately groomed, young) to qualities that attracted the Rams to McVay.

McVay began his Rams tenure with a staff that included Wade Phillips, Matt LaFleur, Zac Taylor and Chris Shula (Don's grandson). He is trying to recapture his instant magic with a reshuffled group.

Stefanski, meanwhile is trying to get something started, at the tender age of 38.

Reach Steve at 330-580-8347 or steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP