RALPH D. RUSSO,AP College Football Writer
There will never be another coaching career like Joe Paterno’s.
His time at Penn State started long before coaches were pulling down multimillion dollar salaries, before fire so-and-so.com web sites and win-now-or-else attitudes at programs that have rarely contended for championships.
No Division I coach won more games (409) or had a longer run at one school than Paterno.
It’s hard to fathom a coach staying at a power program such as Penn State for even 20 years these days, let alone the 46 seasons Paterno led the Nittany Lions.
Coaches who come to define not just a team but a school, Hall of Famers such as Bear Bryant, Tom Osborne, Bo Schembechler, Bobby Bowden and Paterno, seem to be going the way of the wishbone and tear-away jerseys in college football.
“Look what’s happening,” Bowden told The Associated Press on Sunday, hours after Paterno died at the age of 85. “Coaches getting fired in two years. Coaches making a million dollars here and they get $2 million and they leave. They break a five-year contract. You’ve got unloyalty at both ends.”
The 82-year-old Bowden was nudged into retirement two years ago after 34 seasons at Florida State. Paterno was fired during a chaotic week in November after his former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with sexually abusing children.
He found out about Paterno’s death when he arrived home Sunday morning after coaching a charity game between former Florida State and Miami players. Former Hurricanes coach Howard Schnellenberger, who retired from Florida Atlantic after this past season at the age of 77, was coaching the Miami squad.
Bowden and Paterno became friends over the years partly because, as they grew older, they could relate to each like few other coaches could.
“We’d sit and talk and discuss a lot of NCAA questions,” Bowden said. “Those were great memories. My wife Ann and Sue (Paterno’s wife) got along real good together too.”
Bowden said he’d written a letter to Paterno “not too long ago,” but hadn’t spoken with him for some time.
“Bobby always thought so much of Joe,” Ann Bowden said. “He was just a unique character. Joe was very strong and outspoken. He and Bobby were different in a lot of respects. He’d been there a longer time and he was stronger, more forceful, said what he thought. Bobby guards himself a little bit when he says something.”
With Schnellenberger’s retirement, Kansas State’s 72-year-old Bill Snyder is the oldest active coach in major college football.
Snyder has spent 21 seasons with the Wildcats, but even that was interrupted by a three-year retirement when he hit a rough patch.
After Paterno was fired, Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer became the longest-tenured coach working in the highest level of Division I football.
“College football will miss Joe Paterno,” said Beamer, who is 65 and has been leading the Hokies since 1987.
The next-longest continuous tenure among current coaches belongs to 60-year-old Mack Brown, who has been at Texas since 1998.
“I think that the changes in communications and media (changes that of course accelerated Joe’s termination once the grand jury indictments were issued) create a level of scrutiny and pressure that will make 10 years at the same FBS school rare,” Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said in an email.
Some of Notre Dame’s greatest coaches (Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz) only lasted around a decade, but lately the storied program has been emblematic of the revolving door many schools have on the football coach’s office.
Brian Kelly is Notre Dame’s fourth head coach since 1997; its fifth if you count the days-long tenure of George O’Leary. As for Kelly, Notre Dame is his third job since 2004, though he was climbing the ladder from Central Michigan to Cincinnati to one of the most celebrated football schools in the country.
Even elite top-notch programs get used as steppingstones these days.
Alabama’s Nick Saban left Michigan State for LSU, where he won a national title in 2003. He then bailed on the Tigers for the Miami Dolphins before landing at Alabama and winning two national championships for the Tide in five seasons.
“I think the cycles for head coaches will be shorter, much as we’ve seen in pro sports,” West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck said.
At 60, Saban looks as if he could easily put in another 10 years in Tuscaloosa. But with a salary approaching $5 million, why would he want to? Paterno only ever made about $1 million a year, by the way, relatively modest by today’s standards.
“Coaches are making so much money that if they’re successful they can retire early in life and if they’re not successful the school is going to get rid of them real quick,” Bowden said. “It’s not likely we’re going to see anybody last as long as Joe and myself.”
Associated Press Writer Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.
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