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Question of the Day
It was, until this week, the biggest question to dog him. That made him no different from the handful of coaching lifers who stay in the game into their 70s and beyond.
“Who knows,” Paterno said with a straight face in October, when he was asked how his latest injuries affected his future. “Maybe I’ll go 10 years.”
The terms of his departure conflict significantly with the reputation he built over nearly a half-century of turning a quaint program into a powerhouse with instant name recognition.
He made it to the big-time without losing a sense of where he was _ State College, population 42,000, a picturesque college town smack-dab in the middle of Pennsylvania.
Paterno and his wife, Sue, raised five children in State College. Anybody could ring up his modest ranch home using the number listed in the phone book under “Paterno, Joseph V.” Anybody could walk up to offer good luck as he walked to home games.
Former players would parade through his living room, especially on a busy game weekend, for a chance to say “Hello.”
For the most part, Paterno shunned the spotlight, though he had a knack for making a joke that could instantly light up a room.
“You guys have to talk about something. The fans have to put something on those _ what do you guys call those things, Twittle-do, Twittle-dee?” Paterno cracked at one Big Ten media day.
He was referring, of course, to the social media site Twitter _ and no, the technology-averse Paterno didn’t have his own account.
Paterno had no qualms mocking himself or the media, with which he could be abrasive at times. Stubborn to a fault, Paterno also had his share of run-ins with his bosses or administrators, as might be expected for someone who has spent decades with the same employer.
His status didn’t make him immune from external criticism. As his reputation grew, so did the spotlight on his on-field decisions and program as a whole.
In 2002, following a stretch of run-ins with officials over controversial calls, an effigy of a football official, yellow flag in hand, was seen hanging on the front door of Paterno’s home. Though he never said how the doll got on the door, Paterno hinted his wife, Sue, might be responsible, and it was all done in fun.
After he started the 21st century with four losing seasons in five years, Paterno faced growing calls for his dismissal _ once considered heresy in Happy Valley _ during the 2004 season.
The next year, Penn State went 11-1 and won the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions capped the campaign with a thrilling 26-23 win in triple overtime at the Orange Bowl against Florida State and Paterno’s longtime friend coach Bobby Bowden.
Following a messy split, Bowden left the Seminoles after the 2009 season after 34 years, finishing with 389 wins.
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