STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Joe Paterno, as indicated by the famously outdated game-day wardrobes he and his Nittany Lions continue to wear, doesn’t do change well.
The football coach, who at 83 will begin his 45th season Saturday as Penn State hosts Youngstown State, lives in the same four-bedroom rancher he purchased more than four decades ago, has driven a used BMW for years, and is so technologically unplugged he’d have difficulty distinguishing an iPhone from a sousaphone.
His vocabulary is stuck in the 1940s. (“They licked us pretty good.”) His glasses are still horn-rimmed. His cultural references tend to be classical Greek and Roman. His practice routines are, in many instances, those his predecessor, Rip Engle, taught him in 1950.
But as much as he might want to fight it, delay it, ignore it, Paterno is rapidly approaching the biggest change of all, the end of his lengthy and legendary tenure in Happy Valley.
While no one, save perhaps Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley, and president Graham Spanier, knows exactly when that day will come, several factors have fueled speculation that this could be his farewell season.
There is his health. He suffered a broken leg in 2006, had a hip replaced two years later. Digestive problems this off-season forced him to cancel several appearances and curtail other off-field commitments.
A departure after 2010 would guarantee some impressively round numbers for the Hall of Fame plaque. Paterno would have been at Penn State for 60 years, been head man for 45 years, and, assuming these Nittany Lions can manage at least six wins, he would be the first coach to reach 400. (Paterno claims such statistics mean little. “When I’m down and looking up, are they going to put 399 on top of me, or are they going to put 401? Who the hell cares?”)