Sunday, October 26, 2008

Paterno, Penn State Pursue Perfection

If living well is the best revenge, then Joe Paterno should be one of the happiest people on Earth. The 81 year old coaching legend may have a bum wheel that could necessitate offseason hip replacement surgery but his brain is as sharp as ever; Paterno's Penn State Nittany Lions are well coached, well prepared and they play with great discipline--and that is why they improved to 9-0 with a 13-6 victory at Ohio State, earning Paterno's 381st career win, an NCAA Division I (or what is now called FBS) record. Penn State had no turnovers and no penalties and scored what turned out to be the winning touchdown with backup quarterback Pat Devlin running the show after starter Daryll Clark was injured. Paterno led Penn State to national titles in 1982 and 1986 but he also had four undefeated teams (1968-69, 1973, 1994) that were not officially crowned as champions. If the Nittany Lions can win at Iowa on November 8 and then take care of Indiana and Michigan State at home their 12-0 record should earn them a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.

This is the 10th time that a Paterno team has started a season 9-0, which is an NCAA record. Penn State is currently riding a 10 game winning streak overall, tied with Texas Tech for the longest active winning streak. Paterno has had 14 10 game winning streaks during his 43 year coaching career; Alabama is the only program that has matched that mark during this time frame.

This season began with critics carping that Paterno is too old and out of touch and then ESPN piled on with a slanted report slamming him as if he is running some kind of outlaw program, a charge that is truly farcical: this is a man who once suspended star running back Curtis Enis for the Citrus Bowl because Enis accepted a suit from a sports agent; do you really believe that Paterno suddenly morphed into a win at all costs coach with no conscience? It is also important to remember that a few years back Paterno did not suspend a player who had been accused--but not convicted--of a rather serious offense; Paterno talked to the young man, believed that he was innocent and instead of taking the easy route by suspending him Paterno allowed him to continue to play. Paterno took some heat from the critics at that time but the player was ultimately exonerated. These examples indicate that Paterno is willing to suspend a star player when that player steps out of line but he is also willing to go to bat for a player even in the face of heavy criticism. Paterno is no saint and every major football program has some problems but he has a better track record of doing what is right for the right reasons than just about anyone else in the sport's history. Unlike Bob Knight (college basketball's all-time wins leader), whose personal conduct often does not measure up to the standards that he demands from his players, Paterno has never done anything to embarrass himself or his school. Joe Paterno is not only a class act but he is also a brilliant football coach and if he wants to coach until he is 101 I say more power to him.

Stat of the Week: Prior to this game, Ohio State and Penn State each had exactly 380 wins since Paterno became Penn State's head coach in 1966; Ohio State compiled their wins under the direction of four coaches: Woody Hayes, Earle Bruce, John Cooper and Jim Tressel.

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