Four years ago, Joe Paterno's contract was in its final year. Fans called for the then 77-year-old coach's retirement. High-ranking university officials made a house call imploring JoePa to step down.
But I stood up for the old man, insisting that he held the right to end his legacy on his own terms. I was certain the man could still coach at a high level, and did not buy into the notion that he was "out of touch" or "losing control" on his players. Ultimately, he signed a four-year extension, which runs out at the end of the 2008 season.
Now 81, he is again in the final year of his contract, and extension or succession plans are not going smoothly, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And once again, the question is again being raised: Is it time for JoePa to go?
I still stand by my statements from four years ago. He can still coach at a high level. He can still keep his players in line, such as last year when four players were arrested for their role in a bar fight, and as punishment the whole team was forced to clean the entire stadium after every home game.
But finally, I have realized what so many realized four years ago: Joe Paterno can no longer recruit at a national level. He has experienced a resurgence in recent years, landing Sean Lee, Justin King, and Derrick Williams—but he recently lost highly-prized recruit Terrelle Pryor to rival Ohio State.
Pryor, a quarterback in the Vince Young mold, decided earlier this week to don the scarlet and gray rather than the blue and white of his home state. And when you're losing the No. 1 recruit in the nation to a neighboring state's school, it's time to get out of the game.
It's safe to assume Pryor had an idea of Joe Paterno's uncertain future. He probably caught wind that Paterno may be on his way out after the 2008 season. This uncertainty about the head coaching position has stayed at or just under the surface at Penn State for at least six years.
Then there's the uncertainty that comes with any 81-year old, no matter how healthy he or she is. Who knows how long it will be until JoePa shuffles off this mortal coil? This question as well as the contract questions make any prospective player think twice about attending Penn State. Why would Pryor attend Penn State and play for JoePa only one or two years, when at Ohio State he knows Jim Tressel will be there from day one until the day he is drafted into the NFL?
JoePa, you are a legend. Everyone loves you and your referee-chasing ways. But unless you have verifiable proof that you will definitely be on the sidelines for more than another year or two, you simply can't compete in the Big Ten, which is passing you by as you continue to hold back the Nittany Lions.