February 11, 2010

Thursday Question: Paterno v. Bowden, the Finale

Earlier this week, the NCAA officially, and finally, took away 12 of Bobby Bowden's wins. With the coaching legend's retirement this past season, that leaves little doubt as to which college head coach will go down as the solitary leader in major college career wins: Joe Paterno.

But having the career wins record doesn't necessarily make Paterno the best coach of all time, does it? Well, that's why we asked this week's Thursday Question...

Joe Paterno: Great Coach? Or Greatest Coach?


Let me start off by saying I consider more than wins and losses when I’m deciding how good a coach is, and if you had an 18-year old star football player about to make his college choice I think you would as well. When it’s all said and done, Joe Paterno will be remembered for his wins and losses for sure, but he’ll be remembered more for the impact he’s had on so many lives of young men. When Paterno hangs it up they’ll be more fluff pieces written by the same hacks that said he should be fired a few years ago than we’ll be able to handle but I’ve been there all along. I’ve always loved JoePa not only because he was a great coach but because he was a great mentor for a lot of kids. All his All-Americans are great but the multitude of Academic All-Americans is testament to the Paterno way. When Paterno came to Happy Valley the school was nothing more than an agg college, he helped put it on the map. His football program pays for the rest of the athletic department. There’s a library that bears his name. Yeah, he’s had a bit of an impact at Penn State. In my mind there was never a better coach and there never will be a better one, the wins record is just a part of it.


Had this all happened five years ago, I would have said that Bear Bryant was still the greatest major college coach of all time. However, the fact that Joe Paterno has managed to bring his program back from the brink of collapse--particularly during such a different era in college football compared to when the Bear was coaching--to win not only 50 games in five seasons, but to come within two seconds of two national title games, take home four major bowl wins in five seasons, and field record-breaking Penn State teams, that all seals the deal for Paterno's legacy and legend. It's been more than eight years since JoePa has passed The Bear on the all-time wins list. But I'm not sure that record would have meant half as much if Paterno was forced to leave in 2004, in a similar fashion to Bowden's exit last season. Bowden won two national titles--same as Paterno--but wasn't able to have really consistent, high-level success until the late-1980s. But I would have to say that even though I never considered Bowden's Samford wins part of the discussion, it is a shame that it had to end the way it did. As a sports fan, I always love a dramatic ending, and this was far from that.


There's no doubting JoePa being a great coach when you look at his full body of work. Seriously, name me another Division 1 head coach who has produced even half of JoePa's win total and done so without getting their program on probation for recruiting violations or in some sort of major academic/legal hot water, all the while graduating players at a ridiculously high clip. Now, if you want to get into the 'greatest coach' label: That's tricky because it depends on the criteria you're using to base it upon. Are you looking at just win totals? What about winning percentage? Or what about the ability to beat the best teams in your league on a regular basis? We all know how much Joe has struggled against Jim Tressel's Buckeyes, Lloyd Carr's Michigan teams, and Kirk Ferentz's Iowa squads, surely those have to count as a few blows to his 'greatest coach' labeling if you're taking them into consideration. And what about guys like Eddie Robinson and John Gagliardi? Yes, they're not Division 1 coaches but both have more wins than JoePa and both are statuesque legends at their respective schools as well. Shouldn't they also be considered for the 'greatest coach' label?

(Nick had to sit this play out, but should be ready to crack some heads on the next series)

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