Thursday, January 6, 2011

This Joe Paterno Thing Has Gone on Long Enough

By Mark Chalifoux

It's 2011 and Joe Paterno is still a Division I football coach of a major program. The man is 84-years-old and isn't even talking about retirement. He's certainly a legend and has deserved to go out on his own terms, but shouldn't those terms be defined by now? Is he literally going to coach until he dies?

In his postgame press conference after Penn State's bowl loss, Paterno said there hasn't been talk of naming a successor yet and while he only has one year left on his contract, I wouldn't be surprised to see him stick around even longer.

This whole "old guy coaching a football team" was funny a few years ago when he was sprinting to the bathroom during a game to avoid a sideline catastrophe, but now we're getting to the point where people honestly have to worry about him dying on the job.

When John McCain ran for president in 2008, people trying to be funny compared him to Skeletor and some voters were afraid to vote for him because they were afraid of him dying on the job. And he's 10 years younger than Joe Paterno.

This is a quote from one of the postgame stories after the Nittany Lions' loss:

"While he said there have been talks with his staff about what would take place in case something would happen to him, he said it's mainly meant to solidify job security so an assistant coach wouldn't be left without a position."

That sounds awfully ominous. It also makes it sound like he's discussed what should happen in case he literally has a heart attack in a recruit's living room. Maybe I'm reading too much into the phrase "if something would happen to him," but that sounds like something a war-bound marine says before giving the keys to his prized Mustang to his younger brother.

I really don't know how the Joe Paterno saga will end, but I am starting to get worried about having to see it end, personally. If a YouTube clip about a homeless man with a radio voice (and face — take that, homeless man!) can get eight million views in a day, there's no way I'd be able to avoid a video clip of Joe Paterno collapsing on the sideline of a football game.

As long as he doesn't die on the field, I'm set, but I do feel bad for Penn State fans because there is no way this is a good situation. There's no high school football player who is saying, "man, I really want to play football for that guy who is older than my crazy grandpa."

I have friends who are Penn State fans who say he hasn't been on a recruiting trip since visiting Terrelle Pryor, but even if he's not in the homes of recruits, it can't be easy for an 84-year-old man to relate to college kids.

For comparison, I had lunch with grandma the other day. She is 82. She was telling me a story about how she ate lunch at Bob Evans the other day and wanted ketchup on her sandwich. She tried to put some on and the nothing came out of the bottle. She turned it around to inspect it for a problem, saw none, and gave it a test squeeze, which resulted in her spraying herself in the face with ketchup. She knocked part of the lens from her glasses out and couldn't clean herself up with only one napkin, so she went to the bathroom to wash off her glasses. After a few seconds of rinsing, she noticed a man standing next to her. With her ketchup-clogged glasses, she had inadvertently went into the men's room instead. My grandma, bless her soul, is a great lady, but that's just the type of thing that happens to people in their 80s.

I know all the greats stay in the game long after they've peaked, but Paterno is taking that a little too far. Coaching a major college football program is extremely stressful. Look at Urban Meyer. The stress of coaching has turned him into a coach-version of Brett Favre (just in the retirement fake-out category, not in the sexting pictures of his unit category). Does Paterno need that? He has other interests, can't he just go off into the sunset and eat lunch with George H. Bush and play bingo or write a book or something? If he still has the coaching bug, coach a high school team or something easier.

Penn State fans deserve to see Paterno leave, on his own terms, while he's still revered and not because he was forced out or because, god forbid, "something happens to him."

Seeing him on the sidelines is just sad at this point.

Another 84-year-old man was in the news this week, as Hugh Hefner got engaged again, this time to some blonde chick in her 20s. Same scenario.

I had the good fortune to attend a party at the Playboy Mansion a few years ago and I remember at one point thinking how cool it was, seeing Hefner walking around with three blondes on his arm. That scene was fleeting, though, and was tempered by seeing Hefner earlier that night while I was being given an unauthorized tour of the Mansion by someone who had been there before. At one point, we stumbled into an isolated grassy area and saw Hefner, in his trademark pajamas, asleep in a lawn chair.

Seeing him make his brief rounds later that evening evoked the same feelings I have watching Paterno.

He was just a prop. A shell of his former-self. Dangling close to caricature territory. It was almost if he was trapped, whether it was ego or hubris or something else altogether, it just didn't feel right. And when seeing Hugh Hefner at a party at the Playboy Mansion doesn't feel right, it's time for him to get out of the game.

And when seeing Joe Paterno on the sideline for a football game feels wrong, it's time for him to finally step down.

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