Joe Paterno reached 400. He outlasted Bobby Bowden. He’s amassed a legacy no up and coming coach can equal. It is undoubtedly time for him to retire, but he’s returning for his 46th season at 84, because the team is “young and improving.”
Paterno is a great man. His accomplishments are incredible, but even greatness succumbs to age. He’s not involved with the team. He doesn’t wear a headset. He’s not recruiting. He’s not devising schemes. He’s not running practice drills. People cringe when he climbs up stadium steps or behind the steering wheel. Paterno survives interviews and press conferences because it would be indecent to press him for names or details. Him “sounding sharp” on a particular day is noteworthy.
Penn State may win 10 games next year, but it will be because his assistants found creative ways to work around him.
Paterno has earned the right to decide his departure, but he has to handle that right responsibly. It’s not just about him. He is leaving former players, assistants and fans in a state of suspended animation. Greg Schiano turned down jobs at Michigan and Miami. Al Golden may do the same. Lloyd Carr began as an assistant at Eastern Michigan, had his entire coaching career and retired in the time Tom Bradley has been an assistant at PSU.
Fans see a program with elite potential that hasn’t updated the offensive playbook in 20 years and can no longer land top Pennsylvania recruits. This year, they have hardly had any recruits.
Paterno built Penn State’s program, but he has ceased being an accountable steward for it. The young, improving team is not an incentive to stay. It’s the opportune time to transition smoothly. Paterno hasn’t planned for his succession. He has “not thought about” his inevitable retirement, at 84. That’s not perseverance or competitive zeal. It’s egotism.
Joe Paterno has been at Penn State forever. He’s outlasted anyone with the gravitas to fire him. He has been a mentor and influential figure to everyone affiliated with the program. He has no clothes and no one has the heart to tell him. The situation won’t be handled delicately. It just won’t be handled.
[Photo via Getty]