Joe Paterno Has Age and Experience, His Team Doesn't
But on Saturday, Penn State was crushed by Iowa, 24-3, and the sideline, Paterno's sideline, looked out of control. There is Paterno, frantically running down the sideline, yelling and signaling at one of his coaches to call timeout.
The timeout never happened. There is Paterno taking his team into a huddle on the sideline, while the play clock ticks down and ... runs out. There are players running in and out of the huddle, unsure of who is supposed to be where and when.
"Right before the end of the half, we were supposed to have five seconds left," Paterno said. "The officials got that all screwed up."
Here is some cold truth about a legend: It was Paterno who screwed up.
Penn State finally busted a play, 49 yards down to the three. Six seconds left in the half. And the coaches were completely unprepared.
Paterno had one timeout left to call, and should have done it then, allowing his offense to take one shot at a touchdown. If that didn't work, kick the field goal.
Instead, Penn State lined up. The clock started, and quarterback Rob Bolden spiked the ball with 3 seconds left. Time was left only for the field goal.
Later, Paterno would defend his decision not to call the timeout. Yet at the time during the game, he was screaming on the sideline trying to call it.
See, Paterno does not wear headphones, so his assistants didn't know what he wanted.
Oh, what a mess. This was something I hoped I would never see, a picture of Paterno that I don't want to be left with.
Penn State is a young team now, with a freshman quarterback. And it has an 83-year-old coach beginning a rebuilding project.
Am I being fair? Penn State's confusion was there throughout the game, no doubt. But if I'm to be honest, I'm not asking if Paterno had a bad game. I'm asking if Paterno is losing it.
What an awkward thing to suggest, because maybe that's just what I'm looking for. I'm not even sure it's fair to use the word "confused."
Maybe I'm being unfair to him because of his age, letting it bug me that every time someone asks him a question, he says, "Pardon me?"
Maybe the problem isn't old age running the team, but too much youth on it.
It could have been his assistants' fault. It could have the freshman quarterback.
"We call plays and we've got to stick with the plays," Penn State receiver Devon Smith said. "Players come in and players run out."
Where is the problem?
"Kind of upstairs."
Theoretically, he wasn't talking about God, but rather the assistant coaches in the press box.
But when you hear about confusion, and mix it with an 83-year-old coach who isn't wearing headphones, are you sure the problem isn't on the sideline? Are you sure it's not Paterno?
"No, no, no," Penn State running back Evan Royster said. "We've dealt with it many times before. He relies on the other coaches to be on the headphones. Then they communicate with him."
Plenty of people have been grumbling about Paterno for quite a while, that it's time for him to go. And at this point, I disagree.
I believe he should be able to stay as long as he wants. It is his program. He is in his 45th year as the head coach. And it was only recently that he stopped running the onside kick drill with the team. He stopped two years ago after he, uh, broke his hip.
He still runs the sideline. He still tells recruits that he plans to be around another four or five years, or their whole time in school.
But I guess I thought that at the very least, he has a system in place, and longtime assistant coaches he is comfortable with. On routine alone, things should run smoothly.
Middle of the third quarter, Iowa up 17-3. Penn State gets down to the one, third down. A run up the middle goes nowhere.
Fourth down: The offense lines up, but is about to be called for delay of game. Timeout. Then, Bolden tries to run the ball in, but is stopped.
"They came out in that play before they (called timeout)," Iowa linebacker Jeremiha Hunter said. "Then they came out in the same play."
So Iowa knew what to do.
Well, the Nittany Lions are 3-2 now, having been crushed by the only two good teams on the schedule.
They will fall out of the rankings, but were ranked No. 20, which suggests that Paterno has not let the program collapse around him. He also was in a national title race just two years ago, before losing here.
I guess the problem Saturday night was just the shock of seeing a gold standard program seem so baffled. Just under five minutes left in the game, and the Lions were still down by just two touchdowns. They got to their 46, fourth and six. What would you do?
Punted? As soon as the ball left the punter's foot, the game was over.
"I think we're asking too much of the freshman (QB)," Paterno said. "It shows we're not really a poised team yet, on offense or defense."
The problem is age and experience, then. The players don't have enough of it.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @gregcouch