SportsProf

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Saturday, June 04, 2005

Smokin' Joe . . . Paterno?

JoePa is alive and well and waxing optimistic in Happy Valley.

Naturally, it's easy to be this way in June, when the stakes are rather low and you don't have a game scheduled for about 3 months. For those who support him, this article will give you plenty of reasons to continue to do so. For those of you who want an appropriate successor to be named, well, JoePa clearly is bigger than the school, and it won't happen unless he passes away, becomes disabled or anoints his successor.

And none of the three seem likely soon.

I am a Paterno supporter. While I don't think that any school should let any coach become bigger than the school (for example, John Chaney and Temple), I do think that Coach Paterno has set such an outstanding example, both absolutely and relatively, that he deserves special consideration. In an absolute sense, the man has his priorities straight. In a relative sense, he's the saint, and many of the rest of his coaching brethren are sinners. As a result, JoePa deserves his bust on college football's Mount Rushmore.

As does the rightful successor, whoever that may be, deserve to get the Penn State job soon. I do hope that the solid recruiting year Penn State had will pay dividends. I do hope that in the next year or so the Nittany Lions have the type of season that will have them play in a New Year's Day bowl game. To do so, they'll have to vastly improve a previously pathetic offense that can match up with an outstanding defense. Give Penn State an offense that can keep its heralded defense off the field to get ample rest during a game, and that defense will perform at an even higher level. Give Penn State an offense that can move the chains, and the Nittany Lions will win most of their games.

That, of course, is the best-case scenario (it's far from a given, however), and Joe Paterno is very much deserving of it. He's tanned, relaxed and ready -- for a great season, and he deserves one.

Penn State's program has been on the precipice for a while, and it appears as though JoePa has helped pull it back from a nasty abyss. But the competition his team will face is very tough, and the pull of that abyss is very great. If the Nittany Lions fare well this year, then all will be well at Penn State. But if they do not, it will be an Unhappy Valley. And, if that's the case, the doubts will rise up again, and the whispers will turn into shouts.

Because at some point, Joe Paterno must go. All coaches do; no one stays forever.

Here's to hoping that when he does, it's on the shoulders of his players.

And not with once-loving alumni chasing him out of the stadium.

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