Yesterday, the AP overwhelmingly selected Penn State’s Joe Paterno as Coach of the Year. Putting behind him a few years dominated by scathing criticism and calls for his dismissal, 79-year-old JoePa led the Nittany Lions to a 10-1 record and an Orange Bowl berth. Even more impressively, to my mind, Penn State achieved all of this without absolutely dominating any single offensive or defensive category. They simply played as a team, performed well across the board, and did what they had to do in each game to win. Heck, their one loss—a 27-25 thriller in Ann Arbor—might have been their hardest-fought battle of the year. In other words, it wasn’t just an old coach on the sideline, it was old school football—and it was great to see.
Man of the Year in 1986...
Man of the Year now.
Having graduated from Pitt, I’m sure that at some point I signed a piece of paper saying that I forfeit my first-born or waive the rights to all of my possessions or something like that if I ever speak well of Penn State. But last year I was one of those guys who swore up and down that JoePa’s time had come and gone and that he should do the program a favor and step down. This wasn’t based solely on the team’s lackluster record, mind you. The word I kept hearing was that Pitt was grabbing up the in-state recruits and out-of-state recruits were going to schools with hipper coaches, flashier schemes, and quicker routes to playing time. Penn State (I joined the chorus in saying) was doomed for the foreseeable future. So I feel the need to apologize.
JoePa, that was my bad.
And really, any legal rights Pitt has on my attention span were forfeited this year when former Panther Dave Wannstedt traded in South Beach for the banks of the Monongahela River and dragged Pitt through a 5 and 6 season against one of the least impressive schedules ever assembled. (Yeah, but we killed Youngstown State!) What’s worse, anybody who had watched a Dolphins game in the last 2 or 3 years knew everything they needed to know to beat Pitt, because all Wanny did all year long was repeat the mistakes he had perfected in Mami.
Pitt's fearless leader.
Just two or three years ago, it seemed that the Pennsylvania college football pendulum had swung to the West, but that turnaround just hasn’t come to pass. Instead, we’ve ended up with a funny little juxtaposition: In one corner, an old-timer with a glorious past, a surprisingly successful present, and new hope for the future; in the other corner, a new coach with a lousy moustache and a lot of work ahead of him.