Coaches Talk Staying and Going

Outback Bowl opponents Paterno and Meyer discuss their respective futures during a joint press conference in Tampa.

TAMPA -- The flogging of dead horses continued Tuesday, when the opposing coaches in Saturday's Outback Bowl appeared at a joint news conference.

One of them, Florida's Urban Meyer, is stepping down after that game. Perhaps you've heard.

The other, Penn State's Joe Paterno, is not. Which is not necessarily what you've been hearing.

So there's the easy media angle: Comings and goings. Just add a few adjectives and transitions, and stir. Then ship the story to some cranky editor who wasn't fortunate enough to make the trip to Florida, and head for the hospitality room. Simple.

And tomorrow, reheat the same angle. Beats having to write about two 7-5 teams.

The flaw in all this is that Paterno's wife, Sue, debunked the widely circulated rumor that her husband is retiring following the game. She did so Monday, in an interview with Fight on State's Mark Brennan and another reporter. Joe is not sick, she said. No extra planes have been commandeered to bring relatives to the game. Tony Dungy is not waiting on deck. All of that has been thrown around the Internet in recent weeks.

And Joe Paterno said Tuesday what he has been saying for a while -- that he isn't going anywhere.

“People think I'm quitting this year or next year,” he said. “I haven't even thought of it. I, honest to goodness, have not thought of it. … I don't see any reason to get out of it yet. I feel great.”

And, he added, “I don't know when I'll get out. I honestly don't know. I haven't even thought about it yet.”

But rumors to the contrary have been rampant. Paterno, after all, turned 84 just last Tuesday. His team struggled this year. Recruiting is a mess. He had some health issues last summer. And there have been times, notably during news conferences this year, when his hearing or his comprehension -- possibly both -- appeared to be a problem.

So speculation about his future hit the Web, and went viral. A reporter in the process of asking Paterno a long-winded question Tuesday said that a Google search of the coach's name and the word “retirement” produced 393,000 hits.

“I just don't particularly like the idea of people having that much access to anything they want to put on there,“ said Paterno, who added sardonically, “You have 393,000 people, and they all have the right answers.”

But he sounded a lighter note while again addressing the rumor-mongering later.

“I get a kick out of it,” he said. “We had a big problem in State College last week: Somebody said that I was down at the Hershey Hospital. Hershey Hospital? I was home, chewing out somebody for being late to a meeting. It's ridiculous.”

Everybody laughed. He was on his game Tuesday, that much was clear. He joked with Meyer about his attire, since he showed up in a suit and tie, while Paterno was in sweats. He mused about the changes in the college game, brought on by television and increasingly intrusive boosters, among other things.

Why, just the other day, he said, he wanted to watch a bowl game, only to find it started at 10 p.m.

“Ten o'clock at night?” he said. “I'll see the kickoff and I'll be asleep.”

And he said he used to tell boosters he wanted their money, just not their two cents.

“Now,” he said, “they give you their two cents.”

So it was a good day for the veteran coach, amid a trying year. And it was one of the last days the 46-year-old Meyer will spend as a head coach, at least for now.

Meyer, who led the Gators to national championships in 2006 and '08, had initially announced he was quitting in December 2009, after he was bothered by chest pains and dehydration. Then he reconsidered, and returned for a sixth season with the Gators (and his 10th as a head coach, following stints at Bowling Green and Utah). But when this December rolled around, he again reached the conclusion that it was time to step away, to spend more time with his family.

And this time there are no do-overs. A successor, former Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, is already in place. And Meyer said Tuesday he is exploring broadcasting possibilities with ESPN.

“I was planning on coming back,” he said. “I was excited about it.”

But he awoke one morning and thought better of it. “Careful prayer and discussion” followed, he said. Then he decided it was time. Last year's health scare, which he called “a frontal blow,” still lingered in his mind. But the bigger concern is the three kids he is raising with his wife Shelley.

“They've sacrificed for us,” he said. “Now we're going to sacrifice for those kids.”

“I'm not happy to see him go,” said Paterno, who called Meyer one of the college game's “innovators.”

“My son Jay (PSU's quarterbacks coach) worships the guy,” the elder Paterno said. “I keep telling him, 'Your old man's a head coach, too, you know.' ”

More laughter.

And, Paterno said, “I'm different than Urban. I've got people calling up and saying, 'When the hell are you getting out?' I've got a little different slant on it.”

Everybody does, it seems. Especially lately.


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