2006 was the kind of year that Penn State head coach Joe Paterno hopes does not go down in the record books for him – at least when his adventures on the sidelines are considered.
First, Paterno had to sprint off the field in Ohio Stadium because an intestinal virus sent him running to the bathroom. As if that wasn't embarrassing enough for the man who became an octogenarian in December, then came the sideline crash against Wisconsin that broke his leg and sent him to the coaching box for the final games of the season.
However, Paterno said he didn't so much mind the view from above. Ever the football historian, JoePa remembered that former UCLA coach Tommy Prothro once had the same idea to coach from above and said it might just be time for Paterno to do the same.
"It has a lot of benefits, it really does," the 42nd-year Penn State head man said. "I'm not so sure that's not the better way to do it. I really am not. And I've debated that, so that's an interesting question.
"You see so much more. I try not to interfere with the guys upstairs because they know what they're doing, but every once in a while I just drop a little note and say, ‘Don't forget this.' 'That corner's playing awfully tight.' Those are some things that you may not see down on the sideline because you're really just a cheerleader most of the time down on the sideline."
Paterno also drew laughs by noting how much he enjoyed his time in the press box.
"I enjoy being upstairs," he said. "I saw down, had a nice time, had a cup of coffee. I felt like a newspaper guy. I could even turn around and watch television."
Dino Takes Over In East Lansing
The Big Ten welcomes three new coaches to the ranks in 2007. Bill Lynch takes over at Indiana after the death of Terry Hoeppner, while Tim Brewster is the new Minnesota head man after former OSU assistant Glen Mason was fired. However, some Buckeye blood was reentered into the league when former Buckeye defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio was hired to skipper Michigan State.
Despite his ties to OSU and Ohio, which includes designing the dominating defense that led to the 2002 national title and heading Cincinnati the past two years, Dantonio said his goal is to model his program after Michigan.
"In our state, we need to point down the road to Michigan," Dantonio said. "I think it's a natural rivalry for us. It's been there before. I think rivalries are great in college football. And I think if you point to something, you have a chance of achieving that."
Dantonio's words are sure to go over well in a state where the populace is divided in loyalties. Michigan and Michigan State have had their share of classic games and both must battle for high school talent in a state without a prep tradition as rich as Ohio's.
"I think we compete with them daily, whether it's recruiting or whatever it is," Dantonio said. "It's a measuring stick. I know if we can play with Michigan, we can play with anyone in the country, so there it is."
Smith Not Forgotten At MSU
The man Dantonio replaced, John L. Smith, had his share of incidents at MSU, so much so that Dantonio said one of his immediate goals was to regain the respect of the Spartan faithful. It appears much of that might have eroded through Smith's antics over the years.
There was the famous interview with ABC at halftime of a game against Ohio State in 2005, when Smith memorably bellowed "The kids are playing their tail off and the coaches are screwing it up!" after a blown field-goal attempt gave OSU a momentum-shifting touchdown on the half's final play. Then there was Smith slapping himself at the end of his postgame press conference against Illinois in 2006, a reference to what he believed was Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis' falsified claim that he was struck by an MSU player the week before during a sideline melee.
Throw in an MSU record that was below .500 and a number of shocking losses and Smith's time in East Lansing was up after 2006. However, at least one of his former players stood up for Smith, saying that he took too much of the heat for the Spartans' troubles.
"Yeah, he did. They blamed him," defensive back Otis Wiley said. "Coach Smith was my recruiter and my coach and I came to Michigan State because of Coach Smith among other reasons. Coach took the fall for it, and it takes a real man to do that."
Big Ten Noteworthy
** New Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said his team would be spending time training at St. John's College in Collegeville, Minn., home of John Gagliardi, the winningest coach in college football history with 443 wins.
"The University of Minnesota is about winning," Brewster said. "It always has been and it always will be, so we're going to spend time with the winningest coach in the history of college football. I'm so excited to get up to St. John's and be around John and be around the winning that he's done there and expose our players to that."
**Dantonio said that Arthur Ray Jr., a freshman lineman from Chicago Mr. Carmel, underwent a successful 14-hour surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his leg Monday. Also, Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr said that reserve tailback Kevin Grady is rehabbing from ACL surgery and might be cleared to play before the end of the season. However, the decision to play him would result in the loss of a redshirt year, so there is no guarantee Grady will see the field even if healthy enough.