Study in Contrast as Kickoff Nears

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — If the demeanor of the respective head coaches was any indication, Penn State could be in for some trouble in Tuesday's Orange Bowl against Florida State. The differences between the two could not have been more striking.

Joe Paterno was presumably kidding, or at least exaggerating, when he said “I need another big game like I need a hole in the head.” But he was in full pregame-kvetch mode, fretting about Penn State's long layoff, the Orange Bowl's 8 p.m. kickoff and his crush of media and publicity obligations on Monday, the latter beginning with an escorted trip from Miami to Fort Lauderdale for the Orange Bowl's final pregame news conference.

“It took me 30 minutes with a police car to come up here,” Paterno said. “I can't figure out what they're doing. I get instructions from the BCS saying this is what you've got to do. In the old days, I used to work with the Orange Bowl committee. If they told me what to do, I'd say, ah baloney. … Now it's in the contract. You've got to stay where they tell you to stay. We used to pick our own hotel and the whole bit.”

The bottom line?

“I don't like the whole thing. I loved the old way. But I'm a dinosaur.”

Meanwhile, Florida State's Bobby Bowden quipped his way through his 25 minutes in front of the cameras. Looking confident and relaxed, he discussed Florida State's practices (“I could not have asked for any better“), his health (“I can keep up with y'all”), his cordial relations with the media (“Y'all got them fountain pens; I ain't got one”) and his hopes of using the Orange Bowl as a springboard for a return to greatness (“To be back in the top five every year, that's what we would love“). 

Bowden said he's approaching the game with enthusiasm even though the No. 3 Nittany Lions are favored to defeat his No. 22 Seminoles.

“You can imagine what kind of an opportunity this presents for us,” he said. “It's probably a much bigger opportunity than it is for Joe. … We're trying and hoping to get back, and the program will get back. Maybe it will be after I'm gone. Maybe I'll have to leave for it to happen, I don't know.

“But if we beat Virginia Tech, which was No. 5, and then if we beat Penn State, which is No. 3, I'd say, we might be back. We might be back in the hunt. I ain't predicting that, though. Don't put that down as a prediction.”

In other news…

• Paterno said he doubted receiver Derrick Williams would play against the Seminoles. Echoing previous appraisals of Williams' condition, he said team doctors were concerned about the possibility of nerve damage if the freshman's left arm, which was broken at Michigan, were to be re-injured.

“That's a big loss for us,” Paterno said. “Derrick is one of the better football players in America and one of the best athletes I've ever coached. He could play, but the doctors would be concerned that he would bang that elbow up again and there might be nerve damage that might affect his career. He's too good an athlete for us to take a chance on. He's a great athlete. In fact, he and Michael Robinson are probably the two guys who turned this program around.”

• Paterno said he hadn't spoken to juniors Paul Posluszny and Levi Brown about leaving early for the NFL draft. Both are considering whether to skip their senior seasons to enter the league.

“I'll talk to them when we get back home,” Paterno said.

• Bowden sounded confident that the Seminoles weren't preoccupied with the loss of leading tackler A.J. Nicholson. The senior linebacker was suspended after being accused of sexually assaulting a woman last week at the team hotel. No charges have been filed against Nicholson.

“The feedback I've gotten has been, 'Gosh, he should have known better,' rather than 'Why did they do this to him?' ” Bowden said. “It's kind of like the team has moved on. But it's a sad thing, a sad darn thing.”

• Since the Orange Bowl pairing was announced Dec. 4, Paterno and Bowden have been asked repeatedly to muse on their longevity. Paterno has been Penn State's head coach since 1966, while Bowden has been at Florida State since 1976.

Paterno said work has been a refuge.

“I've got 14 grandkids and the oldest is 10. If you think I want to sit around the house all day and take care of 14 grandkids, you're nuts,” he said. “I love 'em, but you have Easter and there are 14 kids running all over the place. Four of them are under 3. So I'm enjoying what I'm doing [in coaching].” 

Bowden said he has never thought about retiring. There was speculation after both of his national championships (in 1993 and 1999) that he would step down, but he said he never even considered it.

While the specifics of their careers may differ, Paterno and Bowden agree they wouldn't have lasted as long in the business had they come up in today's impatient climate in which coaches sometimes get no more than three or four years to prove themselves. 

“I think that the problem is not with the coaches,” Paterno said. “The problem is with people not having enough patience. There's an instant cure [mentality] — get rid of this group, bring in a new guy, do this, do that, and we can change the whole thing around. That appeases [the media], it appeases the guys who are on e-mail, it appeases the talk shows, appeases alumni. But in the long run, it doesn't get the job done. Because you destabilize your whole program.”

Bowden agreed.

“I don't know if there's a safe haven in coaching,” he said. “Do they fire you in Pop Warner?”

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