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The End Has No End

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Joe Paterno is the game's grand old man for being a big winner while running a straight ship, encouraging diverse interests in his players, giving back to his school and occasionally showing up to games wearing pants with little cartoon whales on them, but his "time has come" status has been a sort of unspoken consensus for most of this decade, at least, since the sudden onset of Penn State's wobbly consistency in 2000. Hence the brilliant 'JoPa Wants Brains!' pastiche, the perfect way to say "he's too old" without disrespecting a statesman by actually saying, "he's too old." Which, clearly, he is.

The next year, though, the thin veil separating jokey subversion from very serious, open critique might begin to dissolve, according to the Harrisburg Patriot-News' Mark Jones, who wrote Tuesday that PSU president Graham Spanier might finally be in a position to push if Paterno refuses to budge after this season:
I've always been under the impression until recently that certain of Penn State's trustee emeriti -- such as, say, Paterno's good friend and business partner, Bill Schreyer -- could exert significant force upon Spanier to make certain the school's football coach gets pretty much what he wants. Like maybe a couple of more years on his contract.

I don't think that's the case anymore.

A canvassing of a few of the school's 30-some trustees and other significant influence peddlers in the State hierarchy indicates Spanier finally has enough power to make this Paterno's last season in Happy Valley should he so choose, and whether the coach likes it or not.
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A sampling of Jones' informal survey:
"He's always saying that this is what he likes to do, that he doesn't play golf or have any other hobbies," said one trustee. "Well, that isn't our problem. I think if he wasn't the coach, he'd still be as busy as ever. He could be a full-time fundraiser and really help the university."

Said another person of influence: "As long as I've been around Penn State, which is a long time, it's always been about teamwork. We always said that the university was a team and no one was bigger than the school.

"Now, I see recently where Joe has been asked about planning a successor and stepping down soon and his response is, 'What would I do?'

"What would I do? That's what he says. Well, what happened to this 'team' we always talked about?"
"We've asked the president to come up with a plan for after 2008," said a trustee. "And I'm pretty sure the sentiment is [Paterno] shouldn't coach past 2008.

"Now, the question is, will Joe do the classy thing or will he fight it? I know he doesn't want to be paraded around. But you also have to remember his ego is as big as New Jersey."
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(HT: The Wiz)

For one thing, Paterno's presence on the sideline has been dangerous for a few years now - his leg was gruesomely broken in 2006 when he couldn't get out of the way of one of his players knocked out of bounds against Wisconsin, an injury that could theoretically happen to anyone along the stripes but only has happened to the guy who was 80 years old at the time. In recruiting, Jones notes Paterno was "flattened" by the flu for weeks ahead of Signing Day, when the Lions were still nominally vying for Terrelle Pryor, among others, and that letting him out in the cold could bring on "fatal pneumonia." Circumstantially, Penn State players are showing up in the news in the worst ways, some of them repeatedly, and Paterno's reaction - after Christ Baker's second arrest for assault in eight months - has been, "Eh, boys will be boys. Weren't you ever in a fight?"

Paterno apparently disdains the prospect of a "farewell tour," and he's justified in that. But it looks like he's going to get one in the media, regardless, and he can downplay it, and the university leadership can remain publicly noncommittal. By December, though, bet that Penn State is preparing to name a successor (probably from within, though Spanier wouldn't concede that) or for a power struggle that could get really ugly.