Wlat Knows Best: How Joe Paterno Retroactively (And Hypothetically) Screwed Larry Fitzgerald

I've been blankly staring at this PennLive.com article on Larry Fitzgerald for a few minutes and trying to understand. Maybe you can help my tiny lizard brain get it.  There are plenty of reasons to criticize the Penn State program.  This?  This is reaching.

The logic goes something like this: In high school, Larry Fitzgerald really wanted to attend Penn State but the PSU coaches turned him away because of grades. He went to Valley Forge Military Academy to get his academics in order and decided to go to Pitt.  Then, the wheels begin to fall off the writer's strugglebus:

Nevertheless, it is difficult to argue that Fitzgerald would have been better off in Blue and White than in Blue and Gold. In 2002, Penn State's lefty QB Zach Mills wouldn't have provided the same deep ball arm as Panther southpaw Tyler Palko.

Actually, this is true, but mostly because Rod Rutherford was the Pitt starter in 2002 and 2003.  Palko completed 2 of 3 passes in 2002 and redshirted in 2003, the year Fitzgerald finished 2nd in the Heisman voting and allowed him to subsequently bolt for the NFL.  We can only assume that Palko would have thrown plenty of deep passes to Fitzgerald if they had been on the field together at any time during their Pitt careers.  Who knows, maybe one of those two completions were thrown to Fitz.  Dude catches everything, after all.  Still, they must have been quite the connection on the practice field.

[Also, it's "Zack" Mills, which is nitpicking because 40% of Penn State fans still make that spelling mistake, but come on -- you work for a newspaper.  One of the biggest newspapers that covers Penn State with regularity.  Try a little harder.]

In addition, Pitt coach Walt Harris made the precocious freshman star the center of his offense. That wouldn't have happened at Penn State.

Totally.  If there's anything we've learned about Joe Paterno, it's that he won't play freshmen if they're truly needed on the field.

That year the Lions floundering program was rekindled by another Larry, Larry Johnson, and his record 2,159 yards rushing. Despite his extraordinary talent, Johnson had to wait behind less talented upperclassmen and did not start until he was a senior.

At Pitt, Fitzgerald's talent made him No. 1 from day one. It's easy to say that a freshmen Fitzgerald wasn't going to turn Penn State into a pass-happy offense. Heck, he might not have even seen the field.

First of all, let's get one thing straight -- Larry Johnson didn't receive more playing time in 2001 because of Larry Johnson.  He was a malcontent on a team with a few other pretty good running backs (Eric McCoo and Omar Easy).  At some point, the little light bulb in his head lit up and he became the best running back in the country.  A Voltron-ish receiver of Larry Fitzgerald duct taped to Cris Carter stapled to Jerry Rice -- let's call him Larcris Ricegerter -- wasn't going to turn Penn State into a pass-happy offense in 2002.  We had this guy.

Larry_johnson2_medium 

Nevermind the fact that Bryant Johnson was about to become a first-round draft pick and Tony Johnson was a year away from falling apart as a wide receiver.  Still, I'm pretty sure that true freshman Larry Fitzgerald could have worked his way onto the field somehow.  And if not, hey, he would've been redshirted in order to concentrate on his classes.  I realize that's a cardinal sin in modern NCAA football, but it's how things are often done at Penn State.  Kids who are academic risks are given time to adjust to their new surroundings.

What about next year? Would Fitzgerald have helped State's moribund 3-9 2003 season? Would he have been featured then? Odds are the answer is yes to both questions.

Odds are?  Really?  With Tony Johnson and Maurice Humphrey as our primary receivers in 2003?  Of course the answer is "yes."  Exactly what the hell is the point?  That Joe Paterno could have buried Larry Fitzgerald behind Kinta Palmer and Terrance Phillips for four years in Happy Valley?  Apparently, only the immortal Wlat could have known that Fitzgerald could have possibly made an immediate impact as a freshman or sophomore receiver.  All praise Wlat!

The takeaway from the PennLive item, other than Walt Harris' genius?  Penn State was Larry Fitzgerald's #1 choice, but because Joe Paterno decided not to bend the academic rules for an immensely talented high school player, Joe Paterno is at fault and Walt Harris is the good guy for putting the guy on the field as a true freshman. 

Also, when a writer wakes up and says "I'm going to use Larry Fitzgerald's success to zing Joe Paterno and Penn State for no obvious reason!", basic logic and minimal research are not requirements for publication. 

 

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