Is This Joe Paterno’s Last Season?

As the Outback Bowl approaches, rumors about an imminent retirement announcement from Joe Paterno have returned in full force. This has surprised absolutely no one familiar with the Joe Paterno story. Retirement rumors are a staple of the Penn State football beat, an ever-present slant that commentators with nothing substantial to discuss pursue relentlessly. Just like I am about to…

The reason why these rumors are so persistent is obvious. Joe Paterno is old. He will have to retire eventually, and at some point the rumors will turn into reality. Every year Joe ages, the likelihood that the current season will be his last season increases. Could there finally be truth in the reports this time? Or is this simply the same old dog and pony show?

There are some new circumstances this time around.

The venerated coach’s lieutenants are reportedly shopping around for other coaching postions. Some are expecting that there might even be an announcement within the next 48 hours that Tom Bradley and Ron Vanderlin are heading to Temple. On the other hand, local Paterno-expert Mike Poorman wrote in his StateCollege.com column last week that reports of assistant coaches looking for jobs is not a novel occurrence, and that there are many reasons for them to stay put in Happy Valley for the time being. Poorman also reiterated in his column today that there is zero chance of a forthcoming retirement announcement.

Paterno’s health has been in visible decline recently with an intestinal flu in the spring, slurred speech at the Big Ten media day this summer, and a “six week” cold this fall. The flip side, I guess, is that the coach has spent more time coaching on the field this year than he did last year when he had to coach from a box while he recovered from hip surgery.

Paterno has denied that this is his last year– or rather, denied that he has considered the possibility that this could be his last year— as recently as two weeks ago (though even at the time, the Patriot-News’ Bob Flounders reported that the coach “looked tired”).

There are more unconfirmed reports, of course. None of these rumors have been substantiated past the point of being passed around in email chains and on the multitude of Penn State football message boards, but there is chatter of planes being chartered to take the extended Paterno family to see their patriarch’s final game; speculation that Al Golden took the Miami job with hopes of returning to Happy Valley in a few years after he spends some time growing into a nationally recognized program; and rumors that there is mutual interest in having Tony Dungy be Joe Paterno’s successor. The common thread in all these rumors seems to be that Paterno’s declining health finally compelled him or someone in his family to say enough and ask the 401-win coach (soon 402?) to call it quits.

Do you think this next season will be his last? Or is it too soon to tell?

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Davis

Creator of @OnwardState. Big fan of sweaters. Now at Fusion.

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