Paterno: How Long Can He Go?

by John Furgele

Joe Paterno and Pennsylvania State University ended any doubt that the 81 year old coach would be back by announcing that he has signed a contract extension that will keep him in Happy Valley through the 2011 season, when the real old ball coach will be 85 years old.

Is this a good thing?  A bad thing?  An indifferent thing?  Paterno has been great for college football.  He is honest, makes his players attend class and graduate, and has stayed free of the recruiting wars that have caused many schools to go on probabtion.  There have been some recent incidents that have flowered his once flawless reputation, but in today’s society, that is inevitable.

He has always advocated for a playoff, and twice had undefeated teams that did not win at least a share of a national poll title.  But, he never really complained or bellyached that his teams were wrongly penalized by not getting that share.  Deep down, I think Paterno doesn’t really care about winning national titles.  He has always wanted to coach and teach young men, win some football games, and do the best that he can do.  He has always been about the next game, whether that’s taking a 7-4 team to the Liberty Bowl, an 11-0 team to the Rose Bowl or an 9-3 team to the Fiesta Bowl.

His 1986 team beat Miami 14-10 in the Fiesta Bowl, a win that gave Penn State the AP and UPI Championships.  It remains the most watched college football game ever, with over 82 million viewers.  He also bagged the AP and UPI titles in 1982 when his Todd Blackledge led team beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.  Even after winning, Paterno didn’t gloat, it was just another win for the school, the program.  If Penn State beats USC in the Rose Bowl, he will finish the season 12-1, and will have the same number of losses as the BCS champion, and deep down Paterno will reason that his 12-1 team could beat 13-1 Florida or 13-1 Oklahoma.  Having a “title” doesn’t mean you’re a better team, not in the world that refers to itself as the “bowl subdivision.”

Saying Paterno is too old is unfair.  We could all live to 100 or we could go tomorrow, that’s life and if Paterno feels like coaching and has sound mind, body, and energy, why not let him keep going?  I will assume that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not have a mandatory retirement age, and since Paterno donates much of his salary back to the university, if they do, they probably overlook it. 

There are a lot of programs that are hated in college football, but can anybody really hate Penn State and Paterno? He has been tremendous for college football and having him around for more years is nothing but good.

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