Guido D'Elia is a very smart man. He's built up boring old Penn State football into the "Greatest Show in College Football" with his marketing brilliance. But sometimes I wonder if he really gets it. For three months since the Alamo Bowl Joe's contract status dominated the headlines in Pennsylvania. So I suggested taking charge and changing the subject. Rather than address Joe's status they opted to open up an entire football practice to reporters and cameras for the first time in the history of the program. The result was a week of positive headlines about freshmen running backs and quarterback competitions. Mission Accomplished.
Then Chris Bell decided to go all West Side Story on Devon Still and we're back to saying Joe is too old and wondering if he's lost control of the team. Enter Graham Spanier stage left.
Paterno's current contract is up at the end of the 2008 season, yet that doesn't necessarily mean the end of his record-setting tenure leading the Nittany Lions.
University president Graham Spanier told The Associated Press in an e-mail that both the school and Paterno agree that a contract isn't necessary for the man entering his 43rd season as Penn State coach. The sides agreed to meet, as they have in the past, at the end of the season to discuss the future.
"We are in agreement that a contract would have little practicality given Coach Paterno's seniority. None of us see that as necessary," Spanier wrote in the e-mail Wednesday night in response to a request for an update from the AP.
Asked Thursday to clarify the arrangement, Spanier replied in a follow-up message, "There will not be a new contract. We have an understanding that a contract is not necessary or practical.
"The absence of a contract with a specified number of years does not, however, imply any particular retirement date," he wrote. "We will review the status of the program at the end of the season, as we always do."
And so the big question everyone is asking today is, "Who won?" The answer is everybody and nobody. Spanier wasn't forced to grant Joe a four year contract extension. That's a win for him. He wasn't forced to name a successor from the current staff and he gets to have his national search he wants. Win. But he tried to wrestle the keys to the program away from the old man and was basically told to get off the grass. That's a loss.
Joe walks away with what basically amounts to a contract for life. He has Spanier's proclaimed confidence to continue to run the program as he sees fit. Put one in the Joe column. But Spanier basically holds the cards after the contract runs out in 2009. He can go out and hire someone and hold a press conference declaring him the new head coach and Paterno will have no piece of paper that says otherwise. That's a loss for Joe. And he doesn't get to name his successor.
In the end the Penn State football program as a whole wins and loses. Paterno seemingly has the confidence of the administration with what amounts to a lifetime contract. He can honestly look a recruit in the eye and say he might be around one year or he might be around in five years. But whether Joe decides to hang it up or Spanier decides it's time for a change, there is no plan in place for the day after and that is going to make recruiting difficult. This announcement effectively does nothing but kick the can down the road.