This will officially be Joe Paterno's 59th overall season with the Nittany Lions, and his 43rd season as their head coach. Not only does he hold one amazing resume; consisting of 373-124-3 record, a 27-11-2 post season (bowl) record, 2 Conference Titles, 2 National Championships, 11 Coach of the Year Honors, and of course, the 'Sportsman of the Year' honor by Sports Illustrated (the first head coach EVER to appear as such) in 1986 after PSU won the National Championship, but the man is responsible for literally putting PSU on the map, all together.
JoePa, as he is known, is responsible for 34 of PSU’s 40 bowl game appearances in its’ history, accumulating an impressive 27-11-2 post season bowl record, and Paterno has the most bowl victories out of any head coach, and speaking on such, JoePa also holds the record for most victories against teams in the NCAA Division 1-A Bracket (Bowden is credited for 33 wins at Harvard, which is NOT 1-A football), and to beat that, has more undefeated seasons under his belt than any other coach in history.
As this season rolls in, JoePa will continue to pace the sidelines, as he surpasses Amos Stagg for the most years at a single institution. In 1969, he passed up the opportunity to coach the Pittsburgh Steelers, which went on to win numerous Super Bowls, and then in the same year, passed up the chance to coach over at Michigan, turning down his old time friend, Don Canham. Again, in 1972, despite the offer to also be included in a percentage ownership position, he declined the New England Patriots as well. So, it's not like he had no choice to stay with PSU, he simply chose not to depart from the blue and white.
So, why all this commotion about him? I mean, he's over 80, his body is brittle, and not what it used to be, and often I hear him criticized about his 'antique' style and 'old' playbook ways, yet, each year he rarely fails in his attempt to impress, but I mean, isn't he just a coach? What's the big deal whether he stays or not? Truth of the matter is, unless you're a PSU die-hard fan, it doesn't mean anything, really. So, what has Paterno really done in the name of college football or for that matter the University of Penn State?
Key Point 1: He IS the face of PS Football.
According to history, there are 13 coaches that preceded the great JoePa, but how many of them are known for anything? Well, George Hoskins may have been the first coach of PSU, and PSU may have gotten their first bowl invitation under Hugo Bezdek, or even that Rip Engle got 4 bowl invites and amounted a decent 104-48-4 record with PSU, but compare those numbers to JoePa's 373 wins to the predecessors 417 wins; or the 34 bowl invites to the 6 those before him got; or the fact that this man got ready to coach his first game when people were singing, "You Can't Hurry Love", by the Supremes as it topped the charts. Fact of the matter is, search through PSU's history, and see how he's practically responsible for well more then 3/4Th's of the teams total success, and then try to envision, where would they be without him?
Key Point 2: Let's check the replay, Bob.
In a 2002 home game, in which PSU lost to Iowa 42-35, in OT, Joe Paterno sprinted down after referee, Dick Honig, as he watched the titan-tron replay, of Tony Johnson clearly catching a first down inbounds, which was ruled incomplete. PSU had rallied from a 35-13 deficit in 9 minutes to close the gap, but were thwarted on 4th Down, permitting Iowa to hold onto the game. Just a few weeks later, almost the same scenario, Johnson makes another exceptional catch ruled incomplete, yet, there on the replay, Joe seen him clearly inbounds, which would have set up PSU for the game winning FG to surpass Michigan. So, what you say? Well, in 2003, the Big Ten Conference became the first to adopt their own form of instant replays. The amounting of the previous two situations and with JoePa's public insubordination and protests, are cited as this movements adoption. Within the next year, almost all of the Division 1-A conferences adhered to this same concept. Zebras may be blind, but cameras are not.
Key Point 3: Don't threaten the man.
Any PSU fan remembers the downward spiral PSU went on from 2001-2004, and under heavy criticism, Joe Paterno stated, 'If we don't win some games, I've got to get my rear end out of here. It's as simple as that.' This was a preemptive 'retirement' speech if Penn State had another mediocre season in 2005. However, in that same year was when PSU won its’ share of the Big Ten Title, and beat Bowdens' Seminole Squad in the Orange Bowl in triple overtime, which would be PSU's first trip to this particular bowl. After being criticized by Lion faithful, and the media for such foolish ideas as, 'advancing age', loyal fans, like myself, could only smile with him as he marched out onto the field in 2006.
Key Point 4: Pigskin Ebonics
Despite his, sometimes overwhelming legacy as a coach, he is highly praised for his contributions to the very academic life at this university. After his hiring, Paterno began to conduct what he referred to as a 'Great Experiment' in combining both academics and athletics in the college environment. An idea attributed to his earlier college years at Brown. The Lions had the highest graduation rate, as rated by the NCAA, three years in a row, and exceeding the most recent average by 19 points, while the national average was only 64%. Not everyone makes it to the pros, this is a well known fact, but how do you enforce that on people who swear there's no way they won't make it? Talent and brains, that has to be one of thee most deadly combinations in existence.
Key Point 5: The kind-hearted king.
Oh, yeah, let's not forget. His graceness, is also a high contributor and donator to numerous different fundraisers. Last I checked his numbers, I believe he had donated roughly around 4.5 million dollars in total, and that's not including what he has helped raised for different charities. The man, year-in and year-out, helps make the world a better place by being a perfection reflection of what a leader should be like. It's an amazing site, to see such a man, at 81 no less, march on and off the field with his team. Win or lose, his head remains held high, and he is what should be reflected in every young spirits actions of the future, by depicting what they were taught. I don't think anyone could have said it better than the king himself, "There is an 81-year old Paterno Library, which will serve students at Penn State University for decades to come.". Long after he is gone, his name will forever be the founding stone that made Penn State one of the most hated and most loved and yet somehow still respected colleges it is today.
So, with that all said...
What have we learned? Ok, well, Joe Paterno is three and a half years younger than Yankee Stadium, he was born into the world during Prohibition, and might just have been around to fetch a new bottle of ink for Hancock to sign that Declaration, but what it comes down to is two vital things.......
Does JoePa want to leave? Does he got enough in the tank for another season? I think, after 58 years, everyone should just back off him, and let the man make his own decision. Which, this takes me to number two....
The University President, Graham Spanier, told the Associated Press, "After his contract expires at the end of the '08 season, we will confer with the coach to decide what is next." Good call Spanier. I think it's not so much about wanting him to leave, it's about who has the audacity to try and tell Joe, 'Hey, it's time for you to go'.
No one, and I mean NO ONE bleeds blue and white more than Joe Paterno, and I believe that he should be allowed to coach until he calls it quits, whether that be he die mid-season (Heaven forbid) or calls it quits this year. In the end, all I can do is be grateful for having one true hero and icon grace college sports......
So, now on with it… Those are the facts involved with why he’s so prestigious on campus, but what happens if he does depart ways with the Lions? Well, according to SI, there are a few keen candidates, such as Tom Bradley, Penn State’s current defense coordinator, or Al Golden, who is the OC of Virginia, or Iowa’s Head Coach Kirk Ferentz. However, I’ve also heard some speculation with two other candidates, neither of which I mind all that much.
First is Temple’s Head Coach. He has done remarkable things with that organization, and of course, keeping it in the family, how about Jay Patterno, JoePa’s son? I, personally, however am against that idea. It’s not like Jay has a great reputation on campus, so while on the outside that may seem like a creditable choice, it may hinder any forward progress Spanier has intended for the school.
It is going to take one committed and dedicated man to fill such shoes laced with gold strings, that the very idea of such may even make potential suspects turned off by the idea.
So, what do you think..?
Should Joe Paterno return for one or possibly a few more seasons?
Should he just up and call it quits and enjoy his retirement and hall of fame entry?
Should Spanier just ultimately decline to renew JoePa's contract after this year and move on to newer things?
Who should replace Joe Paterno?
..or better yet…
Who wants to fill an idol’s shoes?