With recent news that Joe Paterno will be returning to again coach the Penn State Nittany Lions in the 2011-2012 college football campaign, the question begs to be asked: When will Penn State decide that enough is finally enough for JoePa? There are several factors that suggest that this time has already come.
Everyone who understands the game of college football knows that without success in recruiting it is impossible to put a winning team on the field on Saturday afternoon. Sure, on occasion, there is a 3-star or unheralded player who may step up and make a difference, but teams with 4 and 5-star guys coming out of high school simply are more successful.
Penn State's recruiting efforts have been pedestrian at best over the past few seasons. According to major recruiting news sites, the Nittany Lions ranked well behind their Big Ten competitors in recruiting in 2008 and 2009, while showing brief success with the 2010 class which was ranked at No. 12. The 2011 class is not even ranked in the Top 50 nationally.
Recruiting success is a direct reflection of belief among the recruit that the coach they are going to spend their time with over the next few years of their life will not only help them to become a better player, but more importantly, will provide them with the opportunity to go on and play in the NFL. It is also important that there will be continuity in the head-coaching spot.
If you compare the success Joe Paterno has had in recent years in producing NFL talent to coaches like Mack Brown at Texas, Bob Stoops at Oklahoma or Urban Meyer at Florida, and the length of their coaching tenures, there is no comparison to be made.
It's almost certain Penn State will continue to be a middle-of-the-road program as long as their recruiting efforts are mediocre and the question looms of whether JoePa will be back in the booth for yet another season in College Park.
Coach Paterno's health issues were the subject of a great deal of speculation and opinion among the college sports media during 2010. After developing an internal disorder caused by antibiotics taken prior to a dental appointment in the spring, Paterno battled with the ailment throughout the remainder of the spring and summer, appearing weak and uneasy at the preseason Big Ten press conference.
Paterno's appearance led to speculation at the time that he may not be able to make it through the season as coach of the Nittany Lions. Showing his resilience and toughness, he was present on the field as the season opened and spent time in the booth after the first game.
At his age of 84, it is reasonable to expect that more health issues will follow as time continues. At what point does concern for his well-being become great enough that Penn State asks that he step away? Possibly never. Perhaps it should.
Look to the Future
For Penn State to stay in the conversation as one of the nation's top collegiate football programs, they should be careful to see what is taking place around them. Young coaches are dotting the sidelines across the country, due to their unique perspective on the game and energy level, which is so important to succeed on the recruiting trail and in the long hours required in and out of season.
Florida State and Bobby Bowden finally agreed that it was time to move on at the end of last season, as Bowden realized that he didn't have the energy to maintain the pace any longer. Seeing JoePa in the booth for the majority of this 2010 season, it is reasonable to suspect that his energy level isn't the same as it once was.
It is impossible to argue against the fact that Coach Paterno is one of the greatest college coaches of all time. This commands respect and loyalty. Loyalty is not open-ended however, and Penn State must look to the future and a new head signal-caller if they are to remain competitive and relevant.