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Joe Paterno Is A Winner, Not A Mascot

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With every mediocre season at Penn State, the topic of Joe Paterno's future with the football program gets beaten like a dead horse. The day Paterno announced he was returning in 2011 last week, BSD was flooded with over 1000 comments by folks on both side of the debate of whether he should remain as coach or retire. We haven't  touched it here because we don't really have much new to say. Despite what some might think, there is no right or wrong answer on either side of the argument about whether Paterno should stay in place or retire.

Every criticism can be balanced with an adulation, which is why, ultimately, Paterno's impact on the program is likely little more than a wash these days. All tolled, he probably doesn't help or hurt the program. Whether that's a reason to try an open a new chapter in Penn State football or stay the course with the octogenarian, I don't know, and I don't care to pretend that I do.

What I do know, though, is that Stephen A. Smith of Philadelphia Sports Daily has no idea what he's talking about on the subject. In an article published today, the loud-mouthed national writer based in Philly had this to say.

Yet, Paterno is still around. Still coming back for season No. 46. Even with the Nittany Lions 7-5, strapped in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten Conference, not even sniffing at a national championship, the door always swings open for the man affectionately known as Joe Pa – but never for him to exit. In fact, Penn State fans are so mesmerized when it comes to him, don’t be surprised if there’s some push emanating from Western Pennsylvania calling for the iconic coach to be appear on "Dancing With The Stars."

Western Pennsylvania? Really? I'm fairly certain that, even among Penn State fans, Paterno is less popular in that region than any other part of the country. Thanks for the cheap shot, though. Anyway...

Smith then goes on to explain that he believes "Joe must go," as his best days are behind him. Nothing new, but what follows is fundamental stupidity.

National titles and Penn State are not mentioned in the same breath anymore. They’re replaced with stories about the halcyon days of a man cheered, primarily because he still has all of his faculties in order. Not because he’s dominant any longer. We keep hearing about the raspy voice, the candor, the devotion to the Nittany Lions and career win No. 400 and beyond. Meanwhile, the real issue keeps being avoided.

Maybe national titles aren't mentioned by you, Stephen, because most of the time you're probably not looking at college football long enough to have any idea what's going on as you rail on ESPN about LeBron James or whatever other national story is ruling the day, but at Penn State, the expectations of the program haven't changed since the national championships of the 1980s.

That's why, when Penn State was in the dumper at the beginning of the last decade, Graham Spanier and Tim Curley asked Paterno to resign, after which he kindly told them to get off his lawn. I guess you weren't around for that, were you?

Must we always wait until the end appears unflattering and there are calls for someone to be pushed out the door (i.e. Florida State’s Bobby Bowden) before a coalition of folks have the decency to come together and say, "Enough’s Enough? It’s time for a new era?"

I’ve asked myself that question for years, never fully willing to comprehend the inevitable conclusion:

There’s too much money out there to be made. The SEC Conference has a $2.25 billion deal with ESPN, another $825 million deal with CBS. The Big Ten has its billion-dollar deal with the networks, along with the ACC. The Pac-10, Big 12 and Big East are going for theirs, as well, and nobody’s apologizing.

If that is the state of affairs in modern-day athletics, what’s the problem if we have an old figure head patrolling the sidelines? Keeping things respectable? Giving the illusion that someday a return to prominence is actually likely to happen on his watch?

These are the questions Penn State entertains, in all likelihood. No doubt doing so while counting the $$$, hugging Joe Paterno along the way.

Essentially, Smith is arguing that Penn State is whoring itself out to the financial incentive of keeping Paterno on as coach. Unfortunately, he's to oblivious to realize that the very financial incentive he's talking about is directly tied to the amount of games Paterno wins.

Maybe he doesn't win as many games as a lot of Penn State fans would like, even to the point that they don't want to see him on the sidelines next year, but ultimately, thousands if not millions care passionately about the program because he continues to keep it relevant. Conference championships and runs at a national championship in 2005 and 2008 did that, believe it or not.

And that's why he'll leave on his own terms. Not because he "deserves it" after all these years of service or because of an oily plan to exploit him at Old Main, but because he still wins enough games that no one at this University has the power to tell him he can't.

How Paterno decides to exit is his choice. If he wants us to see him in failing health, well, he's a big boy. At the end of the day though, Mr. Smith, you writing in a newspaper that Joe should go because people are exploiting his image means nothing more to him than those same powers you accuse of being so devious walking into his house and telling him it's time.

He's going to do whatever the hell he wants and that's final.

The only person exploiting him, here, Mr. Smith, is you. You and your thirst to write something about a big name who you clearly know nothing more about than you see on television. My advice to you, sir, is to go back to your day job of serving as Skip Bayless's counter-clown on ESPN's First Take in the morning and quit trying to come across as knowing something about a subject that you so blatantly don't. Leave that to those of us who follow the program every single day. That, or you're welcome to join us for a podcast where you can yell louder than us and we'll admit you were right all along. Thanks.