Paterno silences critics with solid seasons

Mark Remme

After four losing seasons in five years, the football fellowship in University Park, Pa., was in a funk it hadn’t seen in a while.

Their football coach’s tenure, which has outlasted eight U.S. presidents’, had only seen one losing season in the 34 years prior to the recent losing skid.

Despite the skepticism and silent whispers encouraging a timely retirement, Penn State coach Joe Paterno walked into Beaver Stadium on Sept. 3, 2005, in front of 99,235 Nittany Lions fans, looking to change that naysaying mentality.

No one in the Penn State locker room doubted their football mentor’s ability to coach. Penn State senior guard Robert Price said Paterno’s experience sets him apart from the rest.

“He’s just a great coach,” Price said. “He’ll still get on you. He’s been there before and he knows all the situations.”

The coach, who came into the game with 343 career victories, walked off his home field with a 23-13 win against South Florida. It would be the first of 11 victories during the year.

The magical season for the Nittany Lions saw Penn State record four more victories in 2005 than it did in 2003 and 2004 combined, and culminated with a 26-23 triple-overtime win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

By completing the turnaround season, Penn State not only saw a revitalized locker room but a recharged student excitement toward football around campus.

“It was great for fan support,” Price said. “Even (compared to) back in my freshman year when we went to the Capital One Bowl, you could see people getting excited for games.”

With the 11-1 finish, Paterno showed the rest of the nation what his players, followers and peers knew all along.

Minnesota coach Glen Mason said even though he’s never played or coached for him, Paterno has shown him a special knowledge of what’s best for the game of football.

Mason said in his early years, he had chances to talk to Paterno about coaching strategies.

“I made a practice back then of taking a list of things along that bothered me in my program,” Mason said. “Sometimes the answer he gave me made so much sense that after he told me I was almost embarrassed that I even asked the question.”

Mason said Paterno’s dedication to the very foundations of college football has set him above other coaching greats.

“Joe Paterno is a man of greatness, and not only because of the number of games he’s won,” Mason said. “He’s had a profound impact on a lot of people’s lives for a long period of time.”

Longevity at the helm is an understatement for the man who, in his 41-year tenure, has outlasted 775 Division 1-A coaches.

Paterno ranks second in career Division 1-A coaching victories, with 357, behind Florida State coach Bobby Bowden’s 362.

He has just as many undefeated seasons (five) as he does losing seasons in his tenure. Paterno also has two national championship rings from 1982 and 1986.

Minnesota junior linebacker Mike Sherels said his respect for Paterno will stretch to stories about his own playing days down the road.

“It will be something I’m sure I’ll appreciate and dwell on more after I’m done playing,” Sherels said. “I’ve played against a couple teams coached by Joe Paterno and we won one of them.”

For a program that can attribute over half of its all-time wins to Paterno, either as an assistant coach or head coach, Penn State can also attribute his name to making a matchup with the Nittany Lions a memorable experience for opposing players.

Gophers’ senior wide receiver Logan Payne said playing Penn State is always a special game.

“The guy has done a lot for college football,” Payne said. “He’s been around a long time and obviously he’s one of the most winningest coaches – I know he’s going to have a good squad ready for us on Saturday.”