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Island Boy

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Funny story: CEO of one of the country's biggest companies walks into Joe Paterno's office about five years ago.

"I just want to tell you, 'Don't retire,'" says the 82-year-old captain of industry who senses he is just like the legendary coach. Still on their game, they can't live without the "juice" of the day-to-day, even in the autumn of their years.

"I saw him last year," the 77-year-old Paterno said. "He said, 'Dammit, you took my advice.'"

There were laughs all around the table at the annual Big Ten Football Kickoff earlier this month. The great man and coach might deny that the criticism that as flowed downhill lately doesn't bother him, but he is at least aware of it.

Three of the past four seasons have been losing ones. Coming off his worst season at Penn State (3-9), JoePa was offered a new four-year extension that will put him at 82 if the Nittany Lions go to a bowl game after the 2008 season.

That was unacceptable to some fans who think it's about time that their coach step down. Those 339 victories and two national championships suddenly don't mean much to carping critics and columnists.

The message Paterno has sent, though, since signing the deal is: I ain't even close to retiring.

"Prominent (columnists) in whose eyes?" Paterno said. "Honest to God, I never read one of them. I really can't react to it because I don't know what you're talking about. And if I had, it wouldn't make a difference to me."

Which leads to another funny story: Word has it that Penn State's biggest donor orchestrated Paterno's new contract. That donor? He wears thick glasses, white socks, played high school football against Vince Lombardi and speaks in thick Brooklyneese.

"You really gotta be careful what you ask for," Paterno told that CEO last year, "because you're liable to get it."

If Paterno isn't the biggest donor, he's close, having donated millions to the school he basically put on the map. What the critics can't accept is that, at his age, this coach still can be the smartest man in any room he enters. Because American culture basically dismisses the elderly, his presence on the sidelines has caused a controversial and divisive line.

"There's no halfway with people and coach Paterno," senior defensive tackle Jason Robinson said. "They either absolutely love him or absolutely hate him. I think the contract was something else to love and hate him over."

Paterno might not read the papers, but it's obvious he reads the tea leaves.

"I don't understand why anybody would hate me," Paterno said, feigning surprise. "I'm such a lovely, wonderful guy. Why would losing nine games cause the situation where people wouldn't like me?"

"In our society it's what have you done for me lately," said Minnesota coach Glen Mason, a close friend. "Let's say Joe was president of IBM at the same age. If the stock goes up $3 they say, 'Joe you can't leave us now.' If it goes down $3, they say, 'Oh God, get a new guy.'"

The difference is there are other computer companies. Paterno is Penn State football. There is no guarantee that the small, sleepy college town nestled in the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania will retain its greatness without him.

The signs of erosion are showing. Recruiting has suffered.

Since 2000, Penn State is only 22-26. The Big Ten has been tough on the program.

Indications are that he alone is making the decision on his future. He deserves that much, but Rome has a better succession plan for Pope John Paul II than Penn State does for its aging icon. That's because it has a plan.

That's what Penn Staters really should be worrying about -- no blueprint for the future. No guarantee that Paterno will get things back or, worse, leave them where they are. The assumption is that Penn State would automatically remain a top program when and if Paterno leaves, but ...

"It's going to be a tough challenge," said Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, who has been mentioned a possible replacement. "Whoever goes in there has to coach as well as they can coach."

He has outlasted his longtime defensive coordinator (Jerry Sandusky) and offensive coordinator (Fran Gantner, who took an administrative job after 34 years). Veteran assistant Galen Hall was brought it to spice up the offense and work with Joe's son Jay.

There are no indications that Paterno merely signed the new contract only as a recruiting smokescreen so he could give it one more shot in 2004 and step down. He's on the record as saying he wants to coach one more great Penn State team.

"One more at least," Paterno said.

"He's a man of greatness, great intelligence and integrity," said Mason, whose name also has come up as a possible successor. "In some ways it was wasted on coaching. He could have been a great president. ... He's overqualified for this job, I'll tell you that."

There is a more somber side that few want to consider -- that Paterno believes football is keeping him alive. Bear Bryant died a month after he retired. Paterno is in perfect health and has few hobbies to distract him beyond a voracious reading habit.

Without football?

"What do you want me to do, get a voodoo doll?" said Paterno, explaining why Mason was invited to his home for dinner after Minnesota won at Penn State last year. "I go home and punch the wall and then I smile. Everybody goes home and I punch it again. This isn't life and death."

It's apparent that Paterno has rededicated himself. There was an emotional address to the team in the offseason after a rash of off-field incidents embarrassed him and the program. He kicked some players off the team, suspended others.

"I haven't been following Joe Paterno as many years as some of these people have," Robinson said. "I don't know what he possibly could have lost. He's no different than he was when I first got here. If there is a difference, he's more aggressive."

A reunion of sorts was one of the biggest events of the offseason. Paterno brought in a bunch of former Nittany Lions who spent a lot of time telling the current players about their place in Joe's universe.

One of them had the audacity to step on the block "S" woven into the lockerroom carpet -- a traditional no-no at Penn State.

"It was like, 'Yo, you can't step on the 'S', Robinson said. "He told me I needed to worry about protecting that 'S' on the field more than I needed to worry about the one in the lockerroom.

"That stuck with me."

That's another way of saying the talent has to be there for anything to change. Whether Paterno has enough players for one more great team is a question even the great man himself can't answer.

"Uhhhhhh," Paterno said contemplating the question. "I think we're going to be better."


1. Michigan: Nation's best receiving corps will ease in Matt Gutierrez at quarterback.

2. Ohio State: Defense will have to carry the Bucks again after the loss of 14 players to the draft.

3. Purdue: Best coach in the league (Joe Tiller) will find a way to transition from defensive team back to gun-slinging offensive mindset.

4. Minnesota: After 10 victories in 2003, sky's the limit. Even a Rose Bowl if everything clicks. The only unwinnable conference game looks to be at Michigan on Oct. 9.

5. Wisconsin: Since 2000, Barry Alvarez has averaged less than seven victories per season. Anthony Davis will have to have a Ron Dayne-like season to compete for the Badgers to compete for a major bowl game.

6. Iowa: The law of averages says the Hawkeyes can't keep having to replace their quarterback and win every year.

7. Michigan State: John L. Smith's bubbly personality only goes so far.

8. Penn State: Eight 2003 bowl teams on the schedule. Questionable talent.

9. Northwestern: Still hard to believe that the Wildcats (6-7) played in a bowl last year. Don't count on it this season.

10. Illinois: Pressure growing on Ron Turner who went from 10 victories to one in two years.

11. Indiana: Not much hope. Indiana lost their 10 games last year by an average of 24.4 points.

Big Ten

Predicted Finish

1. Michigan

2. Ohio State

3. Purdue

4. Minnesota

5. Wisconsin

6. Iowa

7. Michigan State

8. Penn State

9. Northwestern

10. Illinois

11. Indiana

Off. Player of Year:

Braylon Edwards, Michigan

Def. Player of Year:

A.J. Hawk, Ohio State

Coach of the Year:

Joe Tiller, Purdue

All I gotta say is go Big Blue!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

:cool: :helmet: :helmet: :helmet:

Look at Jon!!

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Hopefully we won't be that bad, but I agree, It's time for Joe to step down. I was at the Ohio State games last year....biy what a disappointment. I was really ready to knock them off, and go bowling with one of there fans. He was picking on a guy with his wife and kid.

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Originally posted by Hitman56

Go Blue!!!!

I was on the field in that picture with Jansen. After we beat Ohio State, those of us that did not get pepper sprayed ran onto the field. One of the best moments of my life.

Thats F'n awesome hitman!!!! Did you go to MU??

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Originally posted by portis2000yrds

Thats F'n awesome hitman!!!! Did you go to MU??

I went to UM from 95-99. Saw 1 football national championship (Rose Bowl), 2 hockey national championships, and 1 basketball NIT championship.

The only thing that would have made my experience better would have been if Kevin Garnett went to UM (he would have if he passed his SATs earlier)

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Originally posted by Hitman56

I went to UM from 95-99. Saw 1 football national championship (Rose Bowl), 2 hockey national championships, and 1 basketball NIT championship.

The only thing that would have made my experience better would have been if Kevin Garnett went to UM (he would have if he passed his SATs earlier)

They would have been real nice:doh:

What year would have that been??? Was that when we were in trouble with the NCAA??

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