UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- At the end of Penn State's disappointing 2004 football season, many fans and the university administration wanted coach Joe Paterno to retire. He was typically defiant. He said he wasn't going anywhere and talked about leading the Nittany Lions back to greatness after his fourth losing season in five years, a terribly down period for the program when it went 26-33, including 16-24 in the Big Ten Conference. Linebacker Paul Posluszny echoed that sentiment after the final game, a convincing 37-13 thumping of Michigan State at Beaver Stadium, left the team with a 4-7 record. "It's like we tell recruits, 'Don't be discouraged about the record. That's about to change.'"
That next season, Penn State went 11-1, won the Orange Bowl and came within a disputed call at Michigan of going unbeaten.
Saturday, at the end of Penn State's disappointing 2010 regular season, many more fans and perhaps the university administration want Paterno to retire. He's typically defiant. He says he isn't going anywhere and talked of the Nittany Lions being "a pretty good football team" next season. Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin was even stronger after a 28-22 loss to No. 11 Michigan State at Beaver Stadium left the team at 7-5. "We're so close. It's killing me right now and killing everyone in that locker room. That was a beatable football team out there today. They're the Big Ten co-champs and we were right there with them. We can play with anybody. We're so close to being a really good team."
Will history repeat itself?
Will Penn State be great again in 2011?
Sorry, I don't see it.
That '05 Penn State team had the great Posluszny and Dan Connor at linebacker, two of the 10 returning starters on a defense that didn't allow more than 21 points in a game in '04. It had the entire offensive line back. It had Tony Hunt at running back. Best of all, it had Michael Robinson, who, Paterno and his coaches finally realized, served the team much better at quarterback than in a slash role. He was Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in '05 and, although not a fabulous quarterback in the classic sense, was a fabulous winner, one of the best in Penn State history.
I'm looking hard, but I don't see there being a Posluszny, a Connor or a Robinson on the '11 team. Really, who will be Penn State's stars next season? Running back Silas Redd has a chance to step in for Evan Royster, the school's all-time rushing leader, and be even better. Derek Moye and Justin Brown should be fine wide receivers. Linebacker Michael Mauti figures to be a solid linebacker.
But after that?
Penn State has no real clarity at the quarterback position heading into next season. McGloin, a former walk-on, probably has the edge, although he was erratic against Michigan State. Freshman Rob Bolden started the first seven games before losing the job after McGloin led the team to 35 unanswered points in a 35-21 win against Northwestern Nov. 6. Then, there's highly regarded Paul Jones, a Sto-Rox High School graduate, who was redshirted as a freshman this season because of academic problems. How is he going to fit in?
Clearly, Penn State needs better quarterback play than it received this season.
Maybe better coaching, too.
Will Paterno be able to do the job one more season, his 46th as head coach at Penn State and his 62nd at the school? That's a fair question. I know he stood in the bitter cold and wind for 3 1/2 hours Saturday, but he seemed out of sorts at his postgame news conference. He mumbled something about how he expected the Nittany Lions to go 8-3 this season even though they played 12 games. Then, he talked about how the team "maybe made a little more progress than I thought we would." When asked about his seniors who played their final home game, he said, "I'm going to miss some. I'm not going to miss some, obviously." Then, he either didn't hear or understand a question about McGloin that was asked at least three times. He never did answer it.
It was painful to watch Paterno -- a legendary figure in college football if there ever was one -- like that.
The man turns 84 next month. Will he have the physical stamina and be mentally sharp enough to make it through another season? I know this, he had better be strong and at his best next November. Penn State finishes the '11 season with a home game against Nebraska followed by games at Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Good luck to Paterno trying to repeat history.
Good luck to Penn State.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.