Paterno starting 42nd season at Penn St.
Vail, CO Colorado
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. ” He quotes Ernest Hemingway, avoids e-mail and has been known to listen to opera while working from home.
Joe Paterno stands out for more than what he does on the field as a head coach, a career about to enter a record-breaking 42nd season at No. 17 Penn State.
In this age of big contracts, sizable television deals and rabid boosters, will anyone ever last as long on the sidelines as the 80-year-old JoePa?
“This is a miracle, isn’t it?” said Paterno’s friend, Bobby Bowden, no youngster himself entering his 32nd season as Florida State head coach.
Bowden, who turns 78 in November, has 366 career coaching victories, three more than Paterno. Still, Bowden became a target of criticism after the Seminoles finished 7-6 last season.
“The trend doesn’t seem to be that way nowadays,” Bowden said about longevity. “They just don’t seem to be coaching as long, plus the jeopardy is more nowadays than it was.”
Paterno has been through his share of career perils in recent years.
A losing skid of four seasons over five years led to whispers that he should retire, before a Big Ten title and an Orange Bowl win to cap the 2005 season put blue-and-white in vogue again.
“You guys think that you write something and all of the sudden I’m bothered? I don’t read it,” Paterno said.
The grandfather who regularly wears thick, smoky glasses claims he doesn’t have e-mail or a cell phone.
And text messaging?
“My wife had to tell me, ‘Joe, it’s not tech, it’s text,”‘ Paterno said. “I don’t know what you guys are talking about.”
Dozens of other coaches have lost their jobs over such pressure. There have been 798 coaching changes at Division I schools since Paterno worked his first game as head coach on Sept. 17, 1966, according to the Penn State media guide.
Now, Paterno is about to break Amos Alonzo Stagg’s record for coaching longevity at one school. Stagg coached 41 seasons at the University of Chicago from 1892-1932.
But the popularity of big-time college football has grown considerably in the last century. The exposure makes it tougher for coaches to last as long as Paterno, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.
“I think sometimes even when people have had a great deal of success or a good amount of success, I think sometimes people like change just for change,” Stoops said. “Maybe they just get kind of tired of looking at the same guy and want somebody different in there sometimes. I think it’s tougher to do, though I’m sure it could still happen.”
Paterno has said he plans to coach as long as he is physically able, a question rekindled arose after a nasty sideline collision at Wisconsin last November left him with a broken left leg.
He was absent from the sidelines for the last three games of 2006 while recovering from surgery. He’s vowed to return to the Beaver Stadium sidelines this Saturday, when the Nittany Lions’ 2007 campaign opens against Florida International.
“I think I’m 100 percent. I’m not as fast I used to be,” Paterno said earlier this month. “But when I was 18, there was not a girl that was quick enough for me. But no, I’m fine, I’ve enjoyed practice.”
He has no plans to do anything else but coach in the immediate future. His latest contract expires at the end of the 2008 season.
The standard response to questions about how much longer he’ll go ranges from “several” to a “couple more seasons.”
Of course, that’s what he’s been saying for years now.
Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, who at 32 is the youngest head football coach at a Division I-A program, praises senior citizen Paterno for his success on and off the field.
“I don’t know if I’ll be coaching at that age,” Fitzgerald said. “Hopefully I’m doing a good job with my retirement planning where I’m on a golf course somewhere. I don’t know how he does it.”
Associated Press writers Brent Kallested in Tallahassee, Fla.; Jeff Latzke in Norman, Okla.; and Rick Gano in Chicago contributed to this story.