As many of you know, I am a Penn State alumnus, and I love college football. And like most alumni, I get excited and cheer ravenously on game day.
You probably know of our coach, Joe Paterno. He will be 85 years old this December. The last couple of seasons, many alumni have openly suggested it is time for Coach Paterno to retire.
I've seen this movie before.
As the 2004 season ended, we looked back and saw a football team that had finished with a losing record in 4 of the last 5 seasons. As that period dragged on, the calls for Paterno to step down began to come out of the shadows and into the great wide open.
I will admit, during the 2004 season, I quietly hoped Paterno would retire. Watching the rise of the Virginia Tech program at the same time Penn State's began to stumble led to me to conclude that Paterno was losing a fair chunk of his recruiting area to Frank Beamer.
It should be stated that the Hokies are my second favorite college football team, as I have a huge number of friends who graduated from there.
But I was glad I had kept quiet when the Nittany Lions went 11-1 in 2005 and won the Orange Bowl. They would then rattle off 4 more seasons with 9+ wins.
Last year, however, the team stumbled to 7-6 and lost to Florida in the Outback Bowl. The team has been outclassed in back-to-back seasons against Alabama. And last week, they just edged passed Temple for the second year. Now, Temple is a massively better program than it has historically been, and it may not be fair, but alumni are not expected to see the team struggle against Temple… any more than Hokies are expected to struggle with James Madison.
The kicking game and special teams struggled. Cutaways to the sideline appear to show fundamental miscommunication amongst the coaching staff in the heat of the game. In the game against Alabama earlier this year, Penn State burned all three of its timeouts on its opening drive.
Lots of my alumni friends are eager to see Paterno step down. One of them was so excited at the prospect of Paterno stepping down at the end of last season, he fell for an Internet hoax which outlined a surprise announcement of Paterno's retirement at the end of the Outback Bowl.
I don't like to see the team struggle. But I am content to let Paterno step down on his own terms. I watched how Bobby Bowden was forced out at Florida State a couple of years ago, and I dearly hope that is not how Paterno exits the game.
College Football in the 21st Century is a high-stakes, high-stress game. What happens if Paterno were to be forced out? Some alumni are entertaining a fantasy where Urban Meyer takes over the program and returns Penn State to prominence in the national rankings. Sure, it could happen. But would we be able to stay out of trouble with the NCAA? I'm not suggesting every Nittany Lion is a saint, but look at how Michigan and Ohio State have faired recently with high profile coaches. Not well. I do not want to be part of that.
Paterno has done phenomenal work for the university. While I'm sure all alumni are proud of his 403 wins, I am most pleased with his personal donation to the academic facilities. Paterno has donated more than $1 million of his own money to campus libraries. He and his wife, Sue, developed a campaign that raised $13 million for a library expansion that now bears his name.
Ideally, I would like Paterno quietly to give (Athletic Director) Tim Curley and (University President) Graham Spanier a few months notice before he decides which season will be his last. I would hope a strong successor could be found without a media circus, although that is probably wishful thinking.
Whether or not Paterno's successor comes from within the Penn State family is probably an overstated issue. Being The Guy Who Follows Paterno will be tough enough. Considering college basketball for a moment, I don't think Bill Guthridge or Matt Doherty had much of a chance to succeed as successors to Dean Smith. I can't help but think that is waiting for us. Almost as if we will have to go through a very dark period before some alumnus (e.g. Roy Williams) comes back to rescue the program.
The time is coming when Joe Paterno will no longer be the coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions. I don't feel the need to rush that time. When he is gone, we will miss him.