Paterno was back at practice Wednesday and was happy to put attention back to his team, trying to improve off a 7-5, 4-3 season last year that had inconsistencies at quarterback, injuries and just general disappointment all around. The Nittany Lions lost to the Gator
As always, though, the story early in the year is about how long Paterno can patrol the sidelines in his trademark black shoes. Until the first kickoff that is the story.
Paterno’s most recent injury resulted in a hospital stay as a precautionary measure, but he was out of the hospital very quickly and back to action. He was in contact with his assistant coaches and his son (and quarterbacks coach) Jay Paterno to keep planning two-a-day practices.
This is not the first time Paterno has been injured on the sideline. He broke his leg while standing on the sidelines against Wisconsin in 2006. He coached the rest of the season from the booth (as he has done from time to time).
The NCAA’s all-time leader in wins has always been very coy about his future, but the issue is coming to something of a fork in the road with Paterno’s contract expiring at the end of the season. If there was a time for Paterno to step down cleanly — or for Penn State to sever its link cleanly — it might be after this season. There is no telling what the future will hold.
“I’m back to doing a lot of things I used to do, walking a lot more,” Paterno said at Big Ten Media Day, noting his injury from 2006. “I’ve been watching what I eat. I feel good. I enjoyed this spring, have a lot more enthusiasm.
“I’ve got an old saying that I had forgotten. They asked Marv Levy one time when he was coaching, he was a great coach, he said, ‘How about your age?’ Marv said, ‘I don’t think age is a factor.’ He said, ‘I’m old enough to know my limitations and I’m young enough to know how to handle ‘em.’”
Paterno, with his usual good-natured humor, said he was not aware he was in the last year of his contract and noted that the one thing he did not like was that there were a lot of people not involved in the day-to-day operations of the team that have too big a say in the program. He singled out trustees, boosters and the media.
Of course, Paterno has always been a strong-willed independent person. He has never let naysayers quiet him.
That has not stopped them from making suggestions in the wake of this incident that Paterno’s time is coming to an end. Many people are wondering whether Paterno, at 84, should still be walking the sidelines. That, of course, projects out to the ultimate question of whether it is time for Penn State to move on from Joe Paterno.
Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggests it is time for Paterno to step down. There is no shame in aging gracefully, but he writes there is no reason for an 84-year-old man to put his health on the line every time he steps on the field. Collier personally notes that Paterno was the coach when he graduated from Penn State in 1971 and Paterno was still the coach when his son graduated from Penn State three years ago. Yes, that is a pretty long time.
Collier claims it is because he truly cares for Paterno and his long-term health. Of course, many may have said that about Paul “Bear” Bryant. He died only a few weeks after stepping down.
Paterno has shown a crazy ability to bounce back from the random niches that come from being a football coach. He will find a way to bounce back from this. And he will keep coaching until he feels he can no longer do so.
“We’ve had enough success that you can fool people that you’re maybe a better coach than you really are,” Paterno joked (I think) at Big Ten Media Day. “But I don’t really know. I just get up and do my job. Somebody told me five or six years ago, talking to me about maybe I ought to quit, I didn’t think I was ready to quit. I said, ‘If I can’t get something done here in the next couple years, I’ll quit.’ We got some pretty good teams in the last couple years, up till last year. Last year we weren’t very good.”
There is no sense getting in his way at this point.
Photos via DayLife.com.