April 12, 2008

Roundtable: Final year for Paterno?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for their opinion about a specific topic from the past week in college football.

TODAY'S QUESTION: Penn State announced Wednesday night that contract talks with coach Joe Paterno are on hold until the end of this season, when his deal expires. Do you think this will be his final season as coach?
Olin Buchanan
The feeling here is that 2008 probably will be Joe Paterno's final football season, and if that's the case, hopefully it will be his decision.

Paterno arguably is among the top five college football coaches of all time definitely among the top 10 and he has meant so much to Penn State that he should be allowed to coach as long as he wants.

Of course, frustrated Penn State fans unhappy that the Nittany Lions haven't contended for a national championship since 2005 might disagree, and that's understandable to some degree. An infusion of new blood in a football program can make a huge difference.

But Paterno isn't faltering. Penn State has posted at least nine victories in each of the past three seasons and has won its bowl each season. Not bad for an 81-year-old man. Actually, that's not bad for anyone.

Yet his contract talks are on hold? Shouldn't one of the most successful coaches in college football history, who has posted three consecutive successful seasons, has two national championships, has an on-campus library bearing his name and a bargain salary of less than $1 million annually just have his contract automatically rolled over?

The fear is that if Penn State has a substandard season, the administration may use that as reason to force him out.

If Penn State has another strong season, Paterno could at least go out on top. But he shouldn't have to go unless it's his choice.

David Fox
It looks as if it will be a photo finish between Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden for the Division I-A wins record, though both are limping to the finish line. A decision on Paterno's contract has been put on hold, but that doesn't necessarily mean Paterno will be done when his contract runs out. He said as much himself earlier this month: "I don't care if I get a contract. I'll be very frank with you."

Paterno coached without a contract when he first arrived at Penn State and could do so again. It's not like the administration needs a contract to keep him from coaching elsewhere. In the past two seasons, Paterno has been clocked on the sidelines resulting in a torn ACL and was caught sprinting off the field with an illness in the middle of a game. Still, he has enough energy to run spring practice.

Many signs point to 2008 being Paterno's final season, not the least of which is this latest development with his contract. But I'd be willing to bet Paterno finds a way to coach a couple of more seasons.

Mike Huguenin
Can there be any doubt that Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden are just hanging on, trying to outlast each other in their quests to be the winningest Division I-A coach?

There's an interesting conundrum at work for both. Florida State and Penn State are football powers because of their current coaches. But the best days for each coach unquestionably are behind them, and it's too bad neither could go out on top.

Paterno's situation looks more dire right now. Given the numerous off-field problems problems that sure didn't crop up this often in the past a perception exists that Paterno and his staff now are recruiting the wrong kind of student-athlete. All those off-field problems, coupled with less-than-stellar results on the field (Penn State has finished first or second in the Big Ten just once in the past 13 seasons), have Paterno's future truly in doubt. He doesn't seem to have a friend in the president's office, and if published reports in Pennsylvania newspapers are correct, there don't seem to be that many on the board of trustees anymore, either.

It looks increasingly likely that this will be his final season as coach. It's too bad it has come to this, and it's really too bad Paterno can't go out on his own terms.

Steve Megargee
All the news circulating out of State College these days certainly supports the argument that this might be Joe Paterno's final year. That he hasn't signed an extension yet and that the talks are on hold until the end of the season makes it seem as though at least some people in Penn State think it's time for a change.

This ongoing issue creates one more distraction for a program that has enough to worry about as it breaks in a new starting quarterback and attempts to deal with a variety of off-field discipline problems.

But it still seems impossible to imagine Penn State without Paterno on the sidelines, particularly as he continues competing with Florida State's Bobby Bowden for the honor of being the winningest coach in major college football history. My guess is that the arguments about Paterno's future center more on whether Penn State can institute a succession plan similar to the one in place at Florida State, where offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher is set to step in as soon as Bowden retires.

I don't think Paterno leaves after this season unless Bowden also decides to call it quits. I'm guessing they'll both end up leaving at the same time.

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