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Urban Meyer Could Unite Fractured Fan Base Post-Paterno

If a report released last week is true, Urban Meyer, an icon in his own right, could help the Penn State fanbase settle on how to replace the one it already has.

At a weekly press conference late last month, 84-year-old Penn State coach Joe Paterno was asked for his thoughts on coaching his 700th game as a member of the Nittany Lions' staff on Oct. 1 against Indiana. He response was vintage. 

"Well, I've done my penance. I've had 700 press conferences. I've done my penance. I'm on my way," Paterno joked, before considering the query seriously. "But, yeah, really honest to goodness that may sound like I'm being a phony, but I was unaware of it."

He might be the only one.

With each passing game in each passing season, the Penn State fanbase grows more and more anxious about the future of its program. Some wonder whether the end of the Paterno era in Happy Valley is, or at least should be, drawing to an end. Others stand firmly behind Paterno's right to decide when it's his time to step aside.

The sizes of the two groups ebb and flow. During the "Dark Years" period of 2000-2004, the "Joe Must Go" crowd saw a real swell in membership as the Lions posted four losing seasons in five years. The pendulum swung to the other side from 2005-2009 when Penn State won two Big Ten championships, posted a 4-1 bowl record and won 11 games in three of those five seasons.

Now, following a 7-6 record in 2010, the split is becoming more even, and in some case cases, more poisonous, with fears that the program is slipping back toward mediocrity pitted against arguments that last season was simply a bump in the road.

If a report that administration is courting former Florida coach and two-time national champion Urban Meyer is true, though, Penn State may have found a man who can unite both groups.

Meyer's credentials have few peers in the college game today. Beyond his two national championships, he has posted a 7-1 record in bowl games and a stunning .819 winning percentage.

The same can't be said about the flavor-of-the-month candidates Paterno's critics have swooned over and his supporters have shrugged at over the years.

Current heartthrob Pat Fitzgerald is just 36-32 in his career at Northwestern. Yes, he faces far more obstacles there than he would at Penn State, but the fact remains that nothing in his resume suggests he could do a better job than Paterno if he took over today.

Greg Schiano, once coveted by many a Penn State fan in the middle of the last decade, has taken a serious turn for mediocrity. His record at Rutgers is now just 63-64 and he has yet to establish the Scarlet Knights as a regular threat in the lightweight Big East.

Then there's former Temple coach Al Golden, who, despite raising the Owls from the dead before bolting for Miami and owning a Penn State background, has yet to show he can handle the pressure on coaching at the Big Ten level with a fan base as passionate as Penn State's.

Simply put, as much promise as some of those coaches might have, they don't have nearly the credibility Meyer does, credibility the next coach will need to win over the factions of the fan base still fiercely loyal to Paterno.

Hiring Meyer could also diminish a fear both sides have: watching him take over a conference rival, specifically Ohio State. An Ohio native, Meyer's name has been connected to the Buckeyes since Jim Tressel announced his resignation this past summer, and the idea of having to face him rather than cheer for him should probably send chills down the spines of Lions fans everywhere.

For those reasons, it's hard to see much turmoil surrounding the potential hiring of Meyer to take over for Paterno, assuming Paterno is willing to give up the reigns. And if there's one thing we're close to certain of, it's that Meyer won't take the job unless Paterno signs on, as the report says Meyer doesn't want to be the guy to push Paterno out.

At his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Paterno probably left some on both sides uneasy when he told reporters "Who knows, maybe I'll go 10 years."

In the back of his mind, though, Paterno likely knows that Meyer is the one guy who could help him bring about a truly happy ending to his epic career rather than one marked by a sloppy Bobby Bowden-style coup (A coup that has Florida State sitting at 2-3 under the unimpressive Jimbo Fisher) or a flat-out bad hire that half the fanbase never warms up to like Ron Zook at Florida post-Steve Spurrier (Zook, incidentally, was succeeded by Meyer).

Whether that matters to Paterno, or whether there's even any truth to this report, remains to be seen, but after years of fearing the legend won't get the exit he deserve, the specter of Urban Meyer in Blue-and-White offers a glimmer of hope that everyone will live happily ever after.

...Or at least until Meyer loses his first game.

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