Why Joe Paterno's Shoes Can Never Be Filled at Penn State

Tom PerryCorrespondent IJanuary 22, 2012

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Head coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions during warmups before facing the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Ray Perkins can relate to what Penn State's Bill O'Brien is going through.

Not too long after Perkins took over as Alabama's head coach in 1983, legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant died.

Perkins went 32-15-1 in four seasons, but he was never able to get out of the shadow of Bryant. No one ever wants to replace a legend.

Now O'Brien is faced with taking over for college football's winningest coach Joe Paterno, who died Sunday, Jan. 22, almost 29 years to the day Bryant passed.

Perkins told the Altoona Mirror in September 2010 that no one will ever replace Paterno. "There's no one can replace Coach Bryant. And there's no one can replace Joe Paterno," Perkins said. "There's going to be somebody to follow him someday [as] I merely followed Coach Bryant."

So O'Brien is merely the first of many who will likely follow Paterno.

Alabama has hired eight coaches since Bryant's retirement in 1982. Two of those coaches, Gene Stallings and Nick Saban, have led the program to championships. But ask any Crimson Tide fan and no one has replaced the Bear.

If Stallings and Saban couldn't do it then no one ever will at Penn State.

Paterno won almost 100 more games and coached at Penn State for 21 more seasons than Bryant did at Alabama.

So Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher would also understand what O'Brien is trying to accomplish. Fisher took over for Bobby Bowden in 2010.

Through two seasons, Fisher's results are mixed. He is 19-8 and has two bowl wins, but the Seminoles have not won an ACC championship and underachieved this past season.

While Fisher has always been respectful of Bowden's legacy, he made it clear on his first day that FSU was know his program and the Seminoles were going a new direction.

Florida State fans were ready for a change. I'm not so sure Penn State has had enough time to grieve.

Jimmy Johnson is the rare coach who has replaced two legends—Tom Landry and Don Shula.

Johnson was very successful at Dallas and moderately successful with the Dolphins. Naturally, he knows the key to replacing someone like Paterno—win and win often.

Actually, no matter who Penn State had hired or hires in the future...no one will ever fill Paterno's black shoes.