He has paced the sidelines at Penn State University for 55 years. He has won two national championships. He has lead the Nittany Lions to five undefeated seasons. And at the age of 77, most say he hasn’t lost an ounce of enthusiasm or drive that allowed him to build a football program from the ground up. He has created a college football powerhouse by instilling the importance of education, values and hard work in his players. Former players praise him for the impact he has left on them. Coach Joe Paterno, also known as JoePa, has created a model program built on hard work in the classroom and on the field. Yet, after suffering losing seasons for the first time in his coaching career, Nittany Lion fans aren’t happy in Happy Valley.

Before the 2004 season, Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley offered Paterno a four-year contract extension which will keep him at the helm of one of college footballs most storied programs through 2008. Paterno will turn 82 on Dec. 21, 2008.

If my math serves me correctly, that would make him 81 years old. The Boston Globe recently published a study with the new average life expectancy rate, 77.4 years. JoePa has surpassed that mark – and you don’t see him in a retirement home or golfing in Florida in the winter months. He is running through drills with players, sprinting across the practice field to get on a player for improper technique, and rising early seven days a week to best prepare his team.

The man has put his heart and soul into Penn State. He bleeds blue and white. And yet after all he has done, fans and alumni are calling for his retirement after this year. The chants of “Joe must go” grow louder every home game at Beaver Stadium. The stadium seats 108,000 people, but only a few thousand pissed off, disloyal fans scream for him to hang up the ol’ clipboard. Real Penn State fans are standing behind their leader. They cherish the years of prominence and keep faith that things will turn around to the Penn State of old. As well they should. Paterno said he has worked too hard over the years to leave on bad terms. JoePa should go when JoePa wants to go.

This past Tuesday, in his weekly press conference, a reporter asked him if his confidence has been shaken through his team’s struggles. Paterno calmly sat back and said, “I go back to Hamlet, ‘To be or not to be, that is the question. Suffer the slings in adversity of outrageous fortunes or take arms and fight the enemy. By doing so eliminate the problem.’ I have a lot of confidence in my staff and a lot of confidence in this football team.”

Paterno, an educated Brown graduate, has been bombarded with questions like these all year. He remains confident and poised. Yes, he is frustrated. But that won’t stop him from doing his job. That won’t hinder his motivation to take to the road and recruit the nation’s top prospects. In the past few years, recruits have been hesitant to commit to Penn State because of the adversity surrounding Coach Paterno and his team’s downfall. He has assured recruits he will be there until his contract expires. Recently, one of the nation’s top prospective seniors visited Penn State. Paterno – as per NCAA rules – identified the high school player only as “a good recruit, maybe more than good.” At the end of the visit, the player’s father pulled Paterno aside. Paterno recalls the conver sation, “The dad said to me, ‘Boy, you guys have something special here. These kids are not down, they’re excited.'”

The Nittany Lions have a current record of 2-7, with an away game at Indiana University and a home game versus Michigan State University to end their 2004 campaign. This will result in another losing season – the fourth in the past five years. This is the reason why people aren’t happy in Happy Valley. They do have a right to be upset. Losing is new for Penn State fans. They aren’t used to missing New Year’s Day Bowls. They feel they deserve better – and they do.

But, calling out Coach Paterno isn’t what the Penn State program needs right now. Fans need to be supportive as they were in the glory days of Penn State football. True fans stand by their team, win or lose. Sure, reporters and football commentators will criticize Paterno and call for change in State College. They get paid to do that. Their job is to ask the tough questions and point the finger. Sadly, half of the reporters’ parents are the same age as Paterno, if not younger. They don’t have the slightest idea about the history and prestige that Paterno has instilled into the football program and to Penn State.

People have every right to say what they want and to form opinions. But don’t call out college football’s all-time greatest coach. His resume speaks for itself. The man has been there for 55 years – how many Americans are employed that long? Very few. Aside from the tenure, his statistics are second to none. He is the all-time leader among coaches in bowl appearances at 31 and also holds the record for most bowl victories, at 20. He has 20 top-10 finishes in the national rankings. He has also coached the Nittany Lions to a 10-win season 18 times. Enough said.

College football will never see a coach like Paterno again. How many coaches do you know of who donate $3.5 million for faculty positions, scholarships and two building projects, including a brand new library? They didn’t name the locker room after him, or the field house. They honored him by naming the new library “Paterno Library.” Not one college coach could stack up against what Paterno has done and what he has meant to Penn State.

Too many coaches today are caught up in multi-million dollar contracts and endorsements. They walk into programs thinking they can win a national championship by breaking the rules.

For instance, in the 2002 national championship game, Ohio State University defeated Miami University in double overtime 31-24 in the Fiesta Bowl. Maurice Clarett, the Buckeyes’ starting tailback in 2002, proved how coaches will do whatever it takes to win.

Just two days ago, Clarett went public, claiming that Ohio State coaches and boosters had given him thousands of dollars in cash. In addition to the generous handouts, Clarett was given a high-paying job that he didn’t even have to go to. Can I get an application? I want that job.

How much do you think his paycheck was after a 175-yard game in the 2002 season opener against Texas Tech? “It was in the thousands,” Clarett said. “That was cool.”

Clarett’s billfold was never empty and his schedule was never difficult. I hear that basket-weaving and turf management at Ohio State are rather hard.

This is becoming the norm in college football. However, it is far from the case at Penn State. Paterno teams have always exemplified class. And his players actually go to class. Penn State boosters don’t dish out money to players. It is a program that does the right thing. They become successful people after they graduate from Penn State, largely due to the values and morals taught by Paterno.

Penn State will turn their stretch of losing seasons around. Coach Paterno will coach through the entirety of the contract. He will leave the program when he knows its time, and he will leave where it belongs – and where it always stood – on top.

Rovinski can be reached at mrovinski@campustimes.org.

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