Age-old problem? Not with Tom Coughlin and Mike Shanahan

Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan watches his Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan watches his team warm up before the start of the game against the San Francisco 49ers. (Nov. 25, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

LANDOVER, Md. - Funny how no one frets over a coach's age as long as he has the healthy glow of a winner.

Where were the concerns about Giants coach Tom Coughlin when he won the Super Bowl in February 2012, and Redskins coach Mike Shanahan when he won the NFC East title last season?

Now we are into the dark days of December 2013, and with both teams muddling along below .500, much of what is written and said about the futures of Coughlin and Shanahan notes that they are 67 and 61, respectively.

Never mind that each has two Lombardi Trophies on his resume as a head coach and appears far sprightlier than the average American man his age.

Or that the other members of the NFL's 60-plus club -- Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and Bruce Arians -- seem to have enough vitality left to have fashioned winning records this season.

So let's be fair here: The 2013 Giants and Redskins are profound disappointments, but as their owners and general managers decide what to do with them moving forward, age should not be a factor.

Eli Manning, 32, Coughlin's righthanded man for the quarterback's entire 10-year pro career, said he never has felt a generation gap with his boss.

"No, not at all,'' he said Wednesday as the team prepared for Sunday night's game here against Shanahan's Redskins. "I think football kind of has no age between a coach and players. It's a lot about preparation and doing your work and coming in every day trying to get better.''

Manning rejected the notion that Coughlin's energy level has suffered in the least as he nears age 70.

"I think Tom has great passion -- a great passion for football,'' Manning said. "This is what he loves.

"Besides spending time with his family, that and preparing for football games is what he knows and what he loves to do. You see that and that's what keeps him energized and active and going as strong as he is.''

As you might expect, Coughlin is not a fan of questions about his age. But he did concede this past week that after all these years, dealing with frustrating defeats such as the one to the Cowboys on Nov. 24 is harder than ever to shake off.

"It's not easy,'' he said. "Those losses hang around a long time when you've been in it as long as I have.''

Coughlin expanded on that thought in a chat with Bob Costas that aired on NBC's "Football Night in America'' before Sunday night's game.

When Costas asked about the challenge of exuding enthusiasm even after a defeat, he said: "It's harder for me now at this age than it was, say, 10 years ago. The losses are very difficult to deal with.

"There are a lot of nights where I might be sitting there by myself in the dark with my wife sitting next to me and not much conversation going on. But again, you have to talk to yourself about getting back up because it's not about me, it's about our team. I really have to be strong for our team.''

No matter how this season ends, it is unlikely that the Giants will force out Coughlin after all he has accomplished for them, so if he is up for it, he figures to get a chance to make amends in 2014.

Shanahan's status is much less certain. He has one season left on his contract, appears to have a tenuous relationship with his young quarterback, Robert Griffin III, and has a famously volatile owner in Daniel Snyder.

Someone asked Shanahan on a conference call with New York-area reporters last week about maintaining his level of energy and optimism in the face of this kind of season.

"Any time I got used to winning and go through a so-so season, it's tough enough,'' he said. "That's why you're in this game, to win, and you've got the drive and the passion, as Tom does, to be the best at what he does.

"This game is so competitive, but it is tough when you're used to winning and go through a very average season. You enjoy the competition and you enjoy the game. That's why you're in it.''

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