Recently I was having a discussion with a long time Penn State fan. Invariably, the topic of Joe Paterno, JoePa, came up as it does with any discussion of Penn State football.
Joe Paterno is a legend not only at Penn State but in American athletics. He is an icon that truly means something. He has done it the right way and been at the same school for longer than many college football fans have been alive. He is a venerable part of Saturdays in the fall. There may never be another coach like Joe Paterno. In some was, I hope that there never is another coach like him. I hope his records become untouchable. The message he has conveyed through his actions are critically important. You can win without cheating. Though it seems to be lost on many of this generations greatest coaches, Joe Pa has taught us this lesson.
But now it is time for Paterno to teach us all another important lesson; how to live gracefully. Paterno has been at Penn State longer than I have known college football. As I was talking to my friend and the topic of Paterno came up, this friend was resigned to another ho-hum season. Penn State has lost it's football identity. There is nothing left that identifies Penn State football as unique; except Joe Paterno.
The offense is so nondescript that many fans across the nation were in near shock as Penn State rolled to 34 points. You read that right, 34 points. Their only output higher than this was against Indiana State in the opener. For the season, the Nittany Lions average just 23.25 points per game. The defense has played well, but, again, nothing that makes people reminisce about the days when Penn State was putting linebackers into the NFL the way Willy Wonka made chocolate; flowing in like a river.
Gone are the days when Penn State fans looked at a season and thought they had a shot at a national title. a bland offense and a good defense are enough to keep winning games. But the Nittany Lions have handed over the reigns of dominance to the likes of Wisconsin.
Joe Paterno is a legend. He deserves to go out his way. I would not suggest that Paterno be fired or even pushed out. No, it is time for Joe Paterno to do what he has always done, put the best interests of the Penn State Nittany Lion program at the forefront. He needs to recognize that the program has become stale and dull before it is too late to resurrect it from the ashes. He got the program turned around not so long ago from another funk. Right now, Penn State is playing well at 7-1, but they are not feared like they used to be.
The image of Kijana Carter taking Penn State's first offensive play of the 1995 Rose Bowl 83 yards for a touchdown are fading fast from the memories of football fans. Penn State was riding high on that day. Today, they are just a part of the background of college football. Nothing is better than game day in State College, PA. But it has become an afterthought to kids around the country. Penn State used to have national cache, now they are just another school.
Joe needs to examine the state of football at Penn State and make a drastic move. Work on naming the successor now; make a plan; make a move. Then retire and be the beloved figurehead you are already. Take one final one for the team Joe; take a knee. You have won everything imaginable under the sun. Watch as your last move rips the heart out of some fans and brings joy to your own team. Lead the search. Find your replacement. Make sure he can take Penn State to new heights. Then, simply sit back and bask in the rich tradition that Penn State football is. You can still be fully involved with the program. There is no rule that says you cannot be a consultant to the university and maintain an office. You can even meet with recruits when they come for official visits.
Urban Meyer is out there coach, wouldn't you like to simultaneously rip the heart out of Ohio State fans and take Penn State forward into their next phase of greatness?