- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Penn State athletic director Tim Curley needs to tell Joe that it’s time to go.

Firing a legend is always a nasty business. And when the icon in question is Joe Paterno, a man who has devoted more than a half-century of service to an institution while delivering five perfect seasons, two national titles and more victories than any other coach in Division I history (336), it’s a recipe for instant infamy.

But anyone who witnessed Penn State’s humiliating home loss to Boston College last week could see that the program needs a change.

While Boston College, a squad that dropped its home opener to Wake Forest, was busy building a 21-0 first-quarter lead, the Nittany Lions (1-1) were a case study in offensive incompetence, gaining 29 yards on their first four possessions as the game turned quickly into a laugher.

“I was proud of our kids for hanging in there at 21-0,” said the 76-year-old Paterno, who now seems content with moral victories. “We didn’t fold up our tent.”

No, Boston College did it for you, basically playing punt-and-protect football over the last three quarters en route to an easy 27-14 victory.

Now, obviously, nobody would judge a season or a coach on one game. But the Boston College debacle was far from the first in recent Penn State history. And with Nebraska, Wisconsin, Purdue, Iowa and Ohio State left on the schedule, it’s certain not to be the last.

Fact is, Paterno’s program has been on the decline since the start of the 2000 season. In his first 34 seasons at the helm in Happy Valley (1966-99), Paterno’s teams compiled a staggering record of 317-83-3 (.790) with only one losing campaign (5-6 in 1988). In three-plus seasons since, Paterno’s teams are 20-18, with losing records in both 2000 (5-7) and 2001 (5-6).

Those back-to-back busts should have been a sign to Paterno that it was time for a graceful exit. Apparently, he didn’t get the memo. He should have stepped aside after the 2001 season, when he stumbled past Bear Bryant (323 victories) on the all-time list of winningest coaches. Unfortunately, he didn’t, and now the window for an elegant exit is closed and the statute of limitations on ripping legends has expired.

We expected the man with the Magoo glasses to experience a little myopia when it came to viewing his program’s decline. Perhaps someone could translate the following recruiting facts into braille for Paterno:

Over the last three seasons, the Nittany Lions have failed to secure a top-10 recruiting class, their longest such drought since analysts began tracking freshman classes. According to SuperPrep’s Allen Wallace, 18 of last season’s top 100 recruits came from Paterno’s once-happy hunting grounds of Pennsylvania, Maryland, D.C., New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Paterno signed just one of those 18 prospects, leaving him with a class ranked 36th in the nation by Wallace.

Now, 36th might be good enough at some schools. But when your stadium holds 106,000 fans who are accustomed to competing for Big Ten and national titles, such a weak haul is absolutely unacceptable. And already this year, Paterno has lost Pennsylvania’s top senior prospect, West Lawn quarterback Chad Henne, to Michigan. So not only is the product currently on the field in State College substandard, all indications are that it’s only going to get worse.

Both old-school sycophants and Paterno loyalists will scream blasphemy and scoff at the irony, but until JoePa gets a pink slip, Penn State won’t return to national prominence.

No Mo — It finally appears that the Maurice Clarett saga is approaching resolution. Ohio State announced yesterday that the standout sophomore tailback was being suspended for the season but would be allowed to stay on scholarship and return to the team next season.

Clarett reportedly is considering his options, one of which would be to challenge the NFL’s draft policy which mandates that entries be at least three years removed from high school. Given that such a challenge likely would precipitate a lengthy court battle, Clarett is more likely to stay put or transfer to a Division I-AA school.

One such school, Grambling, already has made it known that it would welcome Clarett into the huddle.

“I think what he would have going for him is himself, Doug Williams and Grambling,” said Grambling coach and former Redskins quarterback Doug Williams of the possible transfer. “We could use him.”

No kidding? When Williams isn’t busy refining his mastery of the third-person reference, he’s honing his skills as coaching’s king of understatement.

Clearing the air — Earlier this week, Air Force sent video tapes of the sideline scuffle between quarterback Chance Harridge and Northwestern assistant coach Jay Peterson to Northwestern, the Big Ten and Mountain West conferences. Harridge was ejected for punching Peterson after being tackled along the sideline in Air Force’s 22-21 victory over the Wildcats.

According to Air Force, the video shows that Harridge delivered the blow only after Peterson accidentally elbowed him while celebrating with the Northwestern player who made the defensive play. By way of explaining why Harridge wasn’t being further disciplined by the school, Air Force athletic director Randy Spetman claimed the punch was an instinctive reaction.

Great. Doesn’t it ease your mind to know that a half-cocked, quick-tempered, violence monger like Harridge shortly might be piloting a $10million fighter jet capable of leveling Liechtenstein?

Quick counts — Regardless of how the season plays out, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a call more gutsy than Bob Stoops’ fourth-down fake punt at Alabama, or a more entertaining game than Miami’s second-half rally to top Florida. … Speaking of that Miami-Florida masterpiece, Miami quarterback Brock Berlin posted a quarterback rating of 224.73 over the game’s final 21 minutes, completing 18 of 21 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. …

Jim Grobe already has our vote for Coach of the Year. After all, before this season we weren’t sure Wake Forest competed in sports that didn’t involve Tim Duncan or Titleist. … The moving vans already are circling the home of Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. … In case you missed it, Rockford (Ill.) beat Trinity Bible College (Ellendale, N.D.) 105-0 last Saturday to set the Division III scoring record. Blessed are the meek, boys.

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