His 353 victories are second only to fellow septuagenarian Bobby Bowden among major college coaches. Paterno can move closer to Bowden’s 359 wins when, fittingly, Paterno faces Florida State in the Orange. Paterno has coached 71 first-team All-Americans, and had 29 players go in the first round of the NFL draft. “It’s Joe Paterno. What more can I say,” quarterback Michael Robinson said when asked what brought him to Penn State. “Who wouldn’t want to play for Joe Paterno?” But Penn State is no football factory. Education, morals and personal responsibility are as important to Paterno as blocking and tackling. He and his wife, Sue, have given more than $4 million to Penn State, and his name is on the library, not the indoor practice facility. According to the NCAA’s 2003 graduation rate report, 86 percent of Penn State football players graduated — well above the national average. Of the players who used up their eligibility between 1987-88 and 1996-97, 94 percent got their degrees. Paul Posluszny, this year’s Butkus Award winner, was an All-American on the field and in the classroom, the seventh Penn State player to earn double honors. Paterno stays in touch with his former players, calling to see how their families and jobs are, or nagging until someone finishes his degree. In the highest compliment they can return, many have sent Paterno their own sons. “He teaches us about really just growing up and being a man,” Posluszny said. “Besides the football, he’s preparing us to be good men in life.” Added Jay Paterno, Paterno’s middle son and Penn State’s quarterbacks coach, “I grew up in his house and heard the same thing he tells players: `It’s not important whether you like me now. It’s important whether you like me when you’re 35, you have a job and you’re married with a family.”’ But warm-and-fuzzy only works when you’re winning. After decades of being a national heavyweight, Penn State plummeted to the middle of the pack with back-to-back losing seasons in 2000 and 2001, a first under Paterno. When the Nittany Lions went 4-7 last year, it was the fourth losing season in five years. More troubling, they weren’t drawing the top recruits like they used to, making a quick turnaround unlikely. Some blamed Penn State’s move to the Big Ten in 1993. Others said it was Jay Paterno’s fault. But as the losses continued to pile up, more fans and alums changed their cry to “Joe Must Go.” Most critics said Paterno couldn’t adapt to the game anymore, couldn’t relate to this new generation of kids. In an age of hype and self-promotion, he was still making his players dress like something out of “Happy Days” with their plain white helmets, jerseys without names on them and those goofy-looking, high-top black shoes. “It bothered a lot of us,” senior safety Chris Harrell said. “To hear people criticize him, it hurt us.” When Paterno got a four-year contract extension before the 2004 season, he was called selfish, accused of sacrificing Penn State for his own ego. In the 40 years he’s been at Penn State, the other Division I-A schools have made 773 coaching changes. “We both have reached the age which, the first time something goes wrong, they say, `He’s too old,”’ said Bowden, a close friend who, at 76 and also in his 40th year, has heard his own share of criticism recently. “It’s been very easy for me to use Joe as a gauge because both of us are experiencing the age factor,” Bowden added. “Joe was pretty straightforward. He said, `Don’t let it get you. Stay with what you believe. Don’t back down.”’ No matter how loud the criticism got, Paterno never did. He insisted publicly and privately that the Nittany Lions weren’t that far away from being a good team. All they needed were a couple of game-breakers on offense and some confidence. “He didn’t really allow any of that other stuff to impact him in any way,” athletic director Tim Curley said. “He knew what he had.” To some, though, Paterno’s mantra was further proof that he’d lost touch. “The one thing I tried to get across to people was everybody stay calm. If I can keep my coaches and we can recruit a couple of kids that can make a difference, we’re going to be OK,” Paterno said. “We were in so many games. We were so close.” The record might not have reflected it, but Paterno was right. Of the 16 losses in 2003 and 2004, nine were by 10 points or fewer, including six to Top 25 teams. Last year’s defense — rebuilt under Paterno’s direction before the 2004 season — was one of the country’s stingiest, not allowing any opponent to score more than 21 points. Penn State was once again attracting the best recruits, too. Derrick Williams, considered by some to be the top prospect in the country, signed last winter, as did another in the top 10, Justin King. “I listened (to the criticism), but I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to it,” said Jerry Sandusky, who still lives in State College after retiring in 1999 following 30 years on Paterno’s staff, the last 22 as defensive coordinator. “Knowing that as competitive as he was, and as knowledgeable and as insightful as he is, that he could put the pieces together.” Paterno told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he rebuffed a request by school administrators after the 2004 season to resign, telling them, “Relax. Get off my backside.” Then he pulled his players and staff together and told them this year was going to be special. “He had a vision for these seniors, going back to our first meeting in January,” Jay Paterno said. “He said, `I am not interested in going 6-4 and going to a bowl game. I want to win them all.”’ After splitting Robinson’s time as wideout, running back and quarterback his first three years, Paterno moved the fifth-year senior back to quarterback for good. He then sent his son and offensive coordinator Galen Hall to Texas to study the offense that’s made Vince Young so productive. The freshman-phobic coach even put Williams and King in position to have an immediate impact, giving Penn State’s offense a dimension it hadn’t had in several years. “We knew we were lacking. We decided, `Hey, we’ve got to go out and get a couple of kids that can make a difference,”’ Paterno said. “We plugged in the right places. Fortunately the decisions we made worked out.” The Nittany Lions built momentum in their nonconference games, then got their first test at Northwestern. Down 23-7 in the first half, Penn State rallied, winning on Robinson’s 36-yard pass to Williams with 51 seconds to play. If anyone doubted this was a different Penn State team, that game erased it. “We weren’t going to let one bad play get us down,” senior offensive tackle Levi Brown said. “Last year when we would get down, people on the sidelines would be like, `We’re going to lose this game.’ This year, even when we got down, no one thought we were going to lose.” Upsets over No. 18 Minnesota and No. 6 Ohio State followed as Penn State improved to 6-0. But its hopes of spending New Year’s on the other side of the country were dashed at Michigan, when the Wolverines scored as time expired to win 27-25. “Even when they lost, they kept their poise,” Paterno said. “They didn’t moan about anything. They came back home, went right back to work and won their next four. It’s good to be around kids like that.” And Paterno plans to stay around the kids. His current contract runs through the 2008 season, and he has every intention of honoring it. Though he doesn’t run around the practice field as much anymore, he’s in good health. His hair is more salt-and-pepper than black these days, but he doesn’t look much different than he did back in the Reagan administration. “I always tell people if they hadn’t invented a calendar, I wouldn’t know how old I am,” Paterno said. “As long as I’m healthy, I’m probably going to coach until I feel like, `Hey, this isn’t any more fun.”’ Besides, he wouldn’t know what else to do with himself. Bowden often says he doesn’t retire because he’s worried about “the next big event.” A month after Bear Bryant retired, he was dead. “I think if I got out of coaching, I’d find another job somewhere,” Bowden said. “If I didn’t, I’m afraid I’d die on the vine somewhere.” Bowden at least plays golf. Paterno doesn’t. Nor does he fish. His hobby, his livelihood, his life is coaching. “When I decided to coach, my father said, `If you’re going to coach, whatever you do, have an impact on something. Try to have an impact on something,”’ Paterno said. “I’d like to think I’ve had a little impact on Penn State.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! MIAMI — Funny how the world works. “Old” and “out” eventually become “new” and “in” a never-ending whirl of what’s hot and what’s not. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE But with his Nittany Lions 10-1, ranked No. 3 and playing in the Orange Bowl on Tuesday night, Paterno is no longer passe. He’s retro chic. “It was out there. I didn’t pay any attention to it,” Paterno says now. “Oblivious is probably too strong a word. I was not concerned with it. “When you’re in it long enough, there are days. You’re not always going to be on top,” he added. “You’ve got to be able to take the losses. You shouldn’t stay in this business if you can’t.” Ten years ago, no self-respecting Penn State or college football fan would have dared even think Paterno should step aside, let alone voice such a blasphemous thought. JoePa was an institution, as much a part of the game as helmets and shoulder pads. He’s won two national titles (1982 and 1986), and his unbeaten squads in 1968, 1969, 1973 and 1994 could make a claim, too. He’s had double-digit victories in 19 seasons, 21 Top-10 finishes and had only one losing season in his first 34 years. Take bellbottoms, for example, shag haircuts and Mariah Carey. Better yet, take Joe Paterno. A year ago, a growing chorus of Penn State fans and alumni were howling for him to resign, saying the young man’s game had passed him by. Now, a week after turning 79, JoePa still puts the old in old school with his Coke-bottle glasses, rolled-up pant cuffs and insistence on plain jerseys.