Joe Paterno's Getting Old Again, And It's Killing Penn State's Recruiting

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↵The last time Joe Paterno was old was in the middle of the last decade, when Penn State started flailing around so impotently that Kirk Ferentz voluntarily took a safety in a game he led 6-2 and it was probably the right decision. That game, which did finish 6-4, was the nadir of an ugly mid-aughts run that saw Penn State put up losing records in four of five years. Joe Paterno was old as dirt then. ↵

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↵Then 2005 saw Penn State and Michael Robinson rip off an 11-1 season with a BCS win over Florida State. Penn State was exactly one second away from an undefeated season. Paterno was still old, but four years later Penn State owns a 51-13 record since the end of the Dark Times and JoePa is just old irascible JoePa. Penn State pulled off the remarkable trick of easing Paterno out to pasture without anyone, especially Paterno, noticing. Conventional wisdom has it that defensive coordinator Mark Bradley became the de facto head coach around then, with JoePa's lack of contribution made up for by his PR value. The last five years are proof enough that the model works. ↵

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↵Unfortunately for Penn State, as Paterno ages to the point where even glad-handing the locals is beyond his ability from time to time, the bad word starts popping up again: JoePa is old, man. Penn State blog Black Shoe Diaries surveys the landscape: ↵

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↵⇥Joe Paterno has been ill for a while.  We all know this.  His unavailability has resulted in many consequences -- cancelling the "Evening With Joe" events across the state, renewed speculation about his health and ability to lead the program, and so on.  One drastically underreported problem is the effect his health could be having on recruiting.  Not because he doesn't leave Happy Valley to visit recruits (nothing new there), but because he's having difficulty meeting the local demands of the job.  Months ago, recruits were complaining that they were told written offers were forthcoming, but Penn State was lazy in actually following through on their promises.  Now, with "Evening With Joe" events being cancelled and newspapers asking Graham Spanier for quotes on Joe's health, those recruiters who have been trying in vain for decades to use Paterno's age and health against him finally have some factual support for their assertions.  We all know that he's been pining for a championship run in 2011 like the rest of us (though we'll see how the soon-to-be scrambled Big Ten schedule shakes out), but it's time to face the distinct possibility that this really could be Joe Paterno's last season (yes, just like every season). ↵⇥

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↵Even if JoePa's been a figurehead for a while now, the reason Penn State has been so successful has a lot to do with his presence as that figurehead. Fifty billion years of experience—and the positive press that follows Paterno around whenever he shows up at an event to ask reporters to take his wife, please—has evidently been more than enough to make up for the hit Penn State takes because one of their coaches doesn't recruit on the road or do much coaching. Penn State is in the unusual position of having already made a smooth transition to another head coach and retroactively getting nailed for it. ↵

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↵The results are striking for a program that, along with Texas, was a pioneer when it came to wrapping up your recruiting class a couple of months after the seniors put pen to paper: ↵

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↵⇥While it's ridiculously nearsighted to throw a fit after every single recruiting update on Scout or Rivals, it's important stuff even if it's a bit icky.  All of this said, you may have noticed that Penn State hasn't exactly been doing...well, anything with respect to recruiting.  It's the end of June, and Penn State's lone commit is a two-star tight end from Delaware. ↵⇥

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↵That's extremely unusual these days. Ohio State and Notre Dame are pushing into the mid-teens when it comes to commits. Michigan just picked up six and seven yesterday—and fans were disquieted about how slowly the commits have been rolling in. Pitt, which Penn State fans regard as a faintly annoying gnat, is at nine and just nabbed a top DT recruit from underneath PSU's nose. ↵

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↵This is a vast reversal from even last year, when Penn State cleaned up, and it comes after yet another successful 11-2 campaign that ended with a New Year's Day bowl win. The program hasn't gotten less attractive, so the most logical explanation is that Paterno is old again and Penn State might have a bumpy year or two—their quarterback situation is a disaster—before Paterno retires and their footing is regained. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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