Did Paterno deserve an extension? Absolutely.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno is the perfect example of what is right about college football.
Yes, his career is winding down, and the sunset is visible ahead of the horse he straddles. Yes, he’s 81, and will turn 82 when the Nittany Lions begin Rose Bowl practices on Sunday.
But it is amazing to watch what the old ball coach has accomplished during the last four years.
I was among the many who labeled him over the hill and past his prime. I accused him of desperately hanging onto his job to the point it hurt the program as he led the Nittany Lions to four losing seasons from 2000-2004.
But who could blame him? As the name Bryant is linked to Alabama football, Joe Pa’s grizzled face comes to mind when Penn State is referenced. And when Paul “Bear” Bryant retired from college football following the 1982 season, he died 28 days later.
Perhaps Paterno wanted to avoid a similar fate. Or maybe he just knew he was not done yet. Since that miserable stretch, Penn State has averaged 10 wins a season and has earned two BCS bowl appearances.
But the Nittany Lions’ resurgence under Paterno is not why I see the man as an example of what’s right with college football. It’s not his unwillingness to leave the game either, though I’ve got to respect him for that.
Instead, his presence on the sidelines — unchanging though it may be — is refreshing in this day and age of coaches flipping through schools faster than I flip through channels.
Paterno has been a part of Penn State’s football program since 1950. He was an assistant under Charles A. “Rip” Engle for 16 years before taking over the position in 1966. The 2009 season will mark his 60th year in University Park, Pa.
How often can one say the same old routine and sight is refreshing? It is.
Paterno is not a hired gun like Bobby Petrino. He turned down the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines in 1969. He followed that up by turning down the New England Patriots — and partial ownership — in 1972.
He’s never looked for a Nick Saban-like salary, either. He made $512,664 in 2007. It was a $22,000 raise from his $490,638 in 2006.
Paterno claims to be well paid well, but not overpaid. And his loyalty to his school — which returned the favor with a three-year contract extension on Wednesday — is refreshing in an environment determined by the highest bidder.
Bear in mind Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp makes $900,000 per year. Former Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom’s salary was bumped to $1.7 million following an eight-win season in 2007. New Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin — all of 33 years-old — will receive $2 million in 2009. And, of course, Saban makes $4 million a season.
The fact of the matter is Petrino, Saban, Kiffin, Muschamp and Croom cannot lay claim to the five Orange Bowls, five Fiesta Bowls, four Sugar Bowls, two Rose Bowls and two Cotton Bowls Paterno can.
And Penn State didn’t have to break the bank for any of it.