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Stop Worrying And Trust Joe Paterno

Should there be regime change at Penn State? Or should Joe Paterno be able to leave on his own terms?

Joe Paterno is too old to coach. The game has passed Joe Paterno by. Joe Paterno is doing more harm to the Penn State football team than good. Joe Paterno should cut ties to the program.

I've heard it all; having been a fan of this storied football program for quite some time, I've been through the darkest dark years as well as the highest highs (well, sort of - I was born exactly 31 days prior to Penn State's first national championship, and I was a month past my fourth birthday for championship number two). And now, once again, fans of the Nittany Lions find themselves at a sort of crossroads, with an even 3-3 record on the season that includes an 0-2 Big Ten Conference mark.

Entering the season, most fans and critics knew the team's weaknesses - the Lions replaced all three starting linebackers, shuffled the offensive line, and elected to start a true freshman QB to open the season for the first time in the Paterno era. Fans knew there would be some setbacks, and most were prepared for losses to Alabama, Iowa, and Ohio State, three teams that were each coming off BCS bowl game wins.

What wasn't expected was a Week Six homecoming loss to Illinois, potentially one of the Big Ten's worst teams. Now the boo birds are out, and many are calling for Paterno's resignation.

Some football fans are fickle, ready to jump ship at the first sign of tough sailing. Many run to the nearest soapbox and start screaming about things they have little to no actual knowledge about.

"Joe Paterno doesn't even attend practices anymore!"

"Everyone on the coaching staff hates each other!"

Paterno has earned the right to dictate the terms on which he leaves the program. He built the Penn State football program into a national powerhouse. It might not be an elite program in the eyes of some critics, at least not now, and whether that is true or not is topic for a separate debate. But Penn State is still a powerful name in collegiate football, a top ten team, historically, with a head coach who is one of the best in the game.

You want to discuss numbers? Paterno has won two national championships (and has arguments for more, but Penn State does not claim titles they did not win, unlike some other programs). Paterno has three Big Ten titles since joining the conference in 1993, including two in the past five years. Paterno has won more bowl games (24) and games overall (397) than any Division I (FBS) coach in the history of the game.

You want to talk about his players? His team has never been placed on probation, and has never given even the appearance of recruiting impropriety. Paterno has successfully shaped teenage boys into young men, ready to enter the workforce prepared for what life delivers. He's certainly had his share of players in legal trouble, but this day and age, what coach hasn't? The fact of the matter is that Joe Paterno's players graduate, ready for whatever is next.

How about his community involvement? He and wife Sue began the campaign that would raise the capital for a new, state-of-the-art library at Penn State. Then Penn State named the thing after him. He has a coaching award named after him, the focus of which is more about the coach's overall performance in life, and not just on-field success. Heck, he's even been nominated for a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

But all of that goes out the window, in the minds of detractors, once Penn State loses a game they shouldn't have. Forgetting everything he has done for the team, critics say he's too old, too disconnected, too stubborn to remain at the helm. And maybe he is those things in small parts; after all, he is almost 84 years old and has admitted to some delegation of duties. However, he is still the most decorated coach of all-time, a great human being, and an icon in a sport that is in dire need of some image work.

When Joe is ready to go, he will let everyone know. He will not be bullied into leaving. A similar attempt was made after the 2004 season, what would be the end of the infamous "Dark Years." Paterno convinced Penn State president Graham Spanier that he could pull the team out of the abyss. And he did, stringing together a five-year run that saw more than 50 wins, four bowl wins, two conference titles, and countless other awards and accolades.

Six games into 2010, and some want to get rid of the architect of the Grand Experiment? No. Joe, you leave when you're ready. Just leave the light on for the next guy.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.