Cook: PSU's biggest flaw? Paterno
Please, spare me the nasty e-mails. This is not piling on an 83-year-old man. I'd say the same thing about the Penn State football program if the coach were much younger. The program is in disarray and there are legitimate questions about this coach's ability to fix the many problems.
This Penn State season isn't going to have a happy ending for Joe Paterno. Nor will his marvelous career. Penn State, after getting embarrassed by a mediocre Illinois team on homecoming Saturday at Beaver Stadium, has a 3-3 record and is 0-2 in the Big Ten Conference. A 6-6 finish or even a 5-7 record without a bowl trip hardly seems unlikely. Is that any way for the college game's greatest legend to go out?
Many will say Paterno has brought this on himself by staying on the job too long. See that arm in the air? That's mine. I am in that group. For a number of years, Paterno has been a figurehead and done more delegating to his staff than actual coaching and recruiting. Maybe he's doing even less this season. Whatever. If you saw the 33-13 loss to Illinois or Penn State's three-touchdown losses at Iowa and at Alabama in its only other games against schools from Bowl Championship Series conferences, you know Paterno's way no longer is good enough. He talked after the Illinois game about the need to spend more time with his coaches watching tape to get things right. But, seriously, does he have the energy to do that?
OK, I admit it.
Paterno's age is a factor with me. How can it not be? College coaching is a young man's game. The coach has to, you know, actually do some coaching for his team to have its best chance of success.
Some of Penn State's problems are beyond Paterno's control. His defense, which lost starters Jared Odrick, Sean Lee, NaVorro Bowman and Josh Hull to the NFL after last season, has been devastated by injuries. No one wants to hear that and it can't be an excuse, but it's true. Clearly, the defense isn't good enough to carry the offense the way it has often done at Penn State.
Perhaps no defense is good enough to carry this Penn State offense.
It just might be the worst offense of the Paterno era.
Illinois coach Ron Zook showed what he thought of the Penn State offense when he had his team go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Illinois 29 on the fourth play of the game. Illinois converted, but it wouldn't have been a big deal if it hadn't. Twice in the first half, Penn State took possession after recovering fumbled punts at the Illinois 23 and 9 and settled for field goals. That's awful. Not surprising, but awful. Penn State couldn't score a touchdown at Iowa or Alabama, either. Its only touchdown against Illinois came on a long pass in the second quarter.
Zook's blatant lack of respect for the Penn State offense hasn't been seen since the 2004 season when Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz ordered his team to take a safety rather than punt from its end zone and risk a block midway through the fourth quarter. So what if that cut Iowa's lead to 6-4 and put Penn State within a field goal of winning? Ferentz knew that Penn State's offense couldn't move the ball. It finished the game with just six first downs, the fewest of the Paterno era. Penn State had seven first downs Saturday, only two by rushing.
Even worse than the lousy offense is the sideline confusion among Paterno's offensive coaches. It has been ridiculous. Plays have been rushed into freshman quarterback Rob Bolden. Timeouts have been wasted. Delay-of-game penalties have been called. It was so bad after the Iowa game Oct. 2 that more than one Penn State player complained about it publicly.
When's the last time that happened with a Paterno team?
Has it ever happened?
Disarray, I tell you.
The boss should be embarrassed that things have slipped that far.
Paterno said changes could be made during Penn State's off week this week. "We're not making any progress." Whether those changes are enough for Penn State to win Oct. 23 at Minnesota remains to be seen. Whether they are enough to get Paterno the three wins he needs in the final six games for 400 in his career also is unclear.
This much is certain:
Paterno's job status will be a significant topic of discussion the rest of the season.
If you're 83 and winning and have done what Paterno has at Penn State, no one can touch you. But if you're 83 and losing by 20 points on homecoming, even if you are Paterno ...
It's not going to be pretty.
In '04, the year of that infamous 6-4 home loss to Iowa, Penn State finished 4-7, its fourth losing season in five years. University president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley asked for Paterno's resignation. He was strong enough to turn them away and keep coaching. To his credit, Penn State went 11-1 in '05 and won the Orange Bowl. It followed that up by winning 9, 9, 11 and 11 games in the next four seasons through last year.
Paterno turns 84 on Dec. 21.
This time, he won't have the strength to keep the job.
First Published October 12, 2010 12:00 am