Well, it seems that you just are not allowed to lose a t USC. After the Trojans went 4-7 in their last 11, including Saturday night’s seal clubbing at Arizona State in which the Trojans were busted for 62 points, it was clearly time for head coach Lane Kiffin to get fired.
When I say fired, I don’t mean “Hey, Lane, the athletic director wants to see you in his office 9 a.m. sharp Monday morning.” I mean the story is being reported that USC AD Pat Haden pulled the trigger on Kiffin at 3 a.m. Sunday after the team had returned from the slaughter in Tempe.
There’s so many parts to this story to love, I simply have no idea where to start with them all.
I’ve been saying for years that while Joe Paterno is chronologically 83 years old, he only gets called old when his detractors have a criticism. JoePa hasn’t been old since the Orange Bowl win in 2006, but it seems to some he is getting old again. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find an article on Penn State football that doesn’t reference Paterno’s age or start bringing up examples. I’ve heard these sorts of rumbles before; a cornucopia of rehashings of four years ago when JoePa sprinted off the field in the middle of the game at Ohio State because he had to go to the bathroom. Then’s there’s two years ago when his bad hip wouldn’t allow him to stand on the sidelines.
These calls of “Joe is old” always come from those who have wanted the elder statesman of college football to step aside; those calls peaked in concert with Penn State’s struggles at the beginning of the decade, waned with the resurgence of the Nittany Lions in the middle of the decade, and his incapability of walking the sidelines for games is now furthering them. Paterno’s defenders, such as myself, point out that Penn State is coming off consecutive 11-win seasons for the first time since 1985-1986, and is facing a schedule in 2010 making Penn State the first team to face three teams that won BCS bowls (Ohio State, Iowa, and Alabama) in the previous season. That doesn’t look or sound like the doings of an “old” man.
Then I saw Paterno at the Big Tweleveten’s annual media day.
I was literally shocked at what I saw.
Since the Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage in April, there has been a seriously noticeable decline in JoePa’s health. Paterno fought a couple of health issues over the summer; he had a dental infection that required antibiotics, and he had a reaction to those medications. Normally, those tend to be minor issues, but they seemed to take a major toll on an 83-year old. Media day was his first public appearance since the intrasquad game in April, and he seemed so much more like an “old” man then he ever has.
I get that he looked “old” a few years ago when he was being shuttled on a golf cart or ambling about with that cane, but that was when he was in obvious pain from an arthritic hip and/or a knee taken out by a Badger tight end. Then, he wore the frown of a tough guy fighting pain. Now, he shows no pain at all. Nor does he show his usual disdain for media events. Rather, his speech was slow, slurred, and featured none of JoePa’s usual sharp wit or incisive commentary. In fact, he seemed a bit of a doddering old man who just rambles on about whatever pops into his head. “Old” or not, that’s never been Paterno’s style.
Paterno’s modus operandi has always been one of incredible energy; energy that has always outstripped what it seemed his slight frame could contain. Before the knee injury he suffered during the Wisconsin game in 2006, Paterno was the only octogenarian I knew who ran from the tunnel onto the field every Saturday with his team. Paterno press conferences were at once an exercise in humility and a display of Paterno’s sense of sarcasm illustrating his disdain of the pointless and silly. Nobody could rip apart a reporter asking an inane question and still seem grandfatherly like Paterno. Now, he just seems like a grandfather.
That’s not an insult; nor am I suggesting that it is time for Joe to go. Rather, I would ask you to think about the cherished elders of your own family. The memories you hold most dear are when they were at their most vibrant. If you are my age, everybody’s house had a picture of one or both grandfathers in uniforms from World War II. If you are my age, you’ve never seen a sunrise under which Joe Paterno was not the head coach at Penn State. And if you are like me in your belief that Joe Paterno may be the single-most important figure in the history of college football, you were so busy watching him quietly become a larger-than-life figure that you missed the gradual downslope, especially since it was masked by so much success in the past few years.
As much as I would like it to be, there aren’t two Joe Paternos; there is not both the legendary coach who in the minds of all true Penn State fans can still ride into your town on a Harley, take all your women, drink all your beer, and still find time to destroy your football team who then morphs into the kindly-yet-stern, occasionally temperamental grandfather. Even if there were two Paternos, they would both be made of the real Joe, which sadly is not immortal unlike the legacy he will ultimately leave.
And it is that legacy that compels the “Joe should go” crowd to, for lack of a better term, shut the fuck up. A lot of the squawking you’ve heard this week hasn’t really been about Paterno’s health at all. Instead, it is coming from a collage of self-centered boosters, fans, and alumni echoed by some reporters who care only of the won-loss record, and not for the man who built that which they cherish.
When Joe Paterno first arrived in State College as an assistant coach in 1950, Penn State was a “cow college” of which nobody had ever heard stashed away in the coal-mining and logging hills of central Pennsylvania. Now, The Pennsylvania State University is one of the pre-eminent research universities in the world and boasts one of the largest football stadia in this country; Joe Paterno played a major role in building both of them. As he built the football program into one of the best in the land, he was paid handsomely. However, with that income, Paterno in turn has donated millions to the university; so much so they named a library for him. You can’t swing a dead cat in a BCS conference without hitting a statue of an immortalized coach, but it’s hard to fire a guy whose name is on the library.
The man may have slowed down, but the program is still riding a wave of energy Paterno has been building for 60 years. It is easy to forget when Paterno started, television barely existed, and therefore was not a factor. In fact, when television began its relationship with college football, there were coaches and NCAA officials who were worried it would kill attendance. It is that same energy that makes what he has accomplished in the latter part of his career possible. Paterno’s Nittany Lions have won at least nine games each year since 2005; three times they’ve notched at least 11 victories, and have been to the Rose Bowl once. Remember that all of this came after the dark years at the beginning of the decade when the “Joe should go” chants were the loudest.
Given all that success, one of the most impressive things Paterno has done is keep his coaching staff largely intact. People always talk about “coaching trees,” as in how many of a coaches’ disciples move on to head coaching jobs of their own. For example, even though Pete Carroll left town before Southern Cal landed in the NCAA’s doghouse (somewhere a Paterno team has never been, by the way…), he opened the doors for many of his staff to join the head coaching ranks. Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron, Steve Sarkisian, and Norm Chow (to name a few) all had their careers furthered by their association with Carroll. What better career builder could there possibly be in college football than having “Paterno” on your resume?
Don’t forget having “Paterno” on a resume means being associated with not only a living legend, but more bowl wins than anybody, two national championships (which should be at least three, and most likely four, but I don’t want to get into that argument here), five undefeated seasons, scores of All-Americans, a Heisman trophy winner, and a sizeable number of Hall-of-Famers, both at the collegiate and professional levels. Oh, and don’t forget JoePa is on the verge of 400 career wins, a number reached by nobody at the Division I level, and only reached by fellow legends Eddie Robinson of Grambling State (408) and John Gagliardi of St. John’s (Minnesota) (471).
What does this all mean? Simply stated, it means Paterno doesn’t need to be patrolling the sidelines, he doesn’t need to be on Twitter, and he’s doesn’t need to be in every living room on recruiting trips. He built the Penn State program into what it is; in fact he played a major role in building the whole damn university into what it is. He’s built a resume that no coach will ever again build, and anybody who is foolish enough not to relish the opportunity to draw water from the deepest well of knowledge in the history of the game isn’t worthy of wearing Penn State blue.
In short, as long as JoePa is JoePa, he should be revered and treasured for what he has done for Penn State and college football in general. I’m more than willing to admit that Joe may be showing the signs of age, but he still remains as the most important figure in the history of college football.
If Joe Paterno wants the end of his run to come on the sideline, or in the press booth, or in the president of Penn State’s office, he’s earned that right. Meanwhile, you assholes who have been surfing the wave of success in the ocean Paterno created while saying he is no longer fit for the job need to shut your mouths until you get the gravitas having a library named after you brings.
Until then, shut your mouth or I will come to your house and shut it for you, most likely by hitting you in the face with a shovel.
Mention the movie “A Star Is Born,” and the TCM-o-phile in me comes right out. I’m not the only one; it seems that every generation feels the need to remake this classic. Legendary Hollywood mogul David O. Selznick first made this movie in 1937. Another, and undeniably the best version starred Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954. Barbra Streisand brought us the most laughable version in 1976. However, Washington’s win over Southern Cal a few days ago actually brings yet another take on this classic tale.
Act I: The Beginnning of the End
Sometime in the not-so-distant future, USC has fallen on hard times; the Trojans didn’t win the Pac-10 for the first time in eleventy-bajillion years. At the post-season gala Coaches’ Dinner, Washington Huskies’ head coach Steve Sarkisian is getting ready to accept the Pac-10 Coach of the Year Award. Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott peers around the auditorium, anxiously drumming the armrest of his chair, because USC head coach Pete Carroll is nowhere to be found.
SCOTT: (getting angrier by the minute…) Where the hell is Pete Carroll?
ED ORGERON: Yyyyyyaaaaaaawwwwwww-he-is-here-yyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaawwwwww!
SCOTT: Good. Where is he?
SCOTT: Drunk? How drunk? Is it bad?
SCOTT: (does a face-palm) Oh, God…What the hell are you doing here anyway? I thought you were with Kiffin in Tenneesee?
Act II: The Discovery
In one of those Tarantino-like jumps in time, the calendar suddenly says 2001. The incredibly debonair Pete Carroll is resplendent in his tuxedo and a slight fog from his unfiltered Lucky Strike. He walks on to the sideline at El Camino Junior College; striding right up to Sarkisian.
CARROLL: Do you always coach like that?
SARKISIAN: Like what?
CARROLL: Like you did just now. I’ve never seen anybody coach like that.
SARKISIAN: Do you mean good or bad?
CARROLL: Do you ever go fishing? No forget that…Have you ever seen a great fighter? (A bit awkwardly) I’m trying to tell you how you coach.
SARKISIAN: You mean like a fish or a prizefighter?
CARROLL: There are certain pleasures you get, little jabs of pleasure like when a swordfish takes the hook, or when a prizefighter gets ready for the kill. You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you?
SARKISIAN: No, not yet. You mean like a coach beating USC with a team that was 0-12 the previous year?
CARROLL: You’re joking, but that’s exactly what I mean. If you’d never seen a Pac-10 game in your life, you’d know a great coach from the minute he stepped on the field; from the way he stood, or from the way he moves. When you see that, there’s a little bell in your head; one of those little jabs of pleasure. Well, that’s what happened to me just now. You’re a great coach, Esther Blodgett Steve Sarkisian.
SARKISIAN: (surprised, yet humbled) Who, me?
CARROLL: What, no one has ever told you that before?
SARKISIAN: No, Coach Carroll, no one has ever told me that before.
CARROLL: I know exactly what I’m saying. You do have that little something extra that Norm Chow was talking about. Norm Chow, a great coach long before you came around, he always said that’s what “star quality” was; that little something extra. And you’ve got it. So, now what are you doing wasting your time coaching junior college?
SARKISIAN: (defensive) Wasting my time? I’m not wasting my time. You have no idea how long it’s taken me to get this far. I’m doing fine, Coach Carroll, just fine.
CARROLL: You’re wasting your time. Here, you come with me (sweeps Sarkisian into his monstrously posh convertible for a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway).
SARKISIAN: Do you know the only thing I can think about right now? Where will I wash my hair? When anything happens to me, good or bad, I make straight for the shampoo bottle.
CARROLL: With me it’s a bottle all right; perhaps not shampoo, though. But things are so good at SC right now, I have no need of it.
SARKISIAN: I’m afraid I’m no good talking about myself, Coach Carroll. Everything just runs together. My mind works it’s own jumbles.
CARROLL: I can sort them out.
SARKISIAN: (in that vulnerable, yet inquisitive manner usually reserved for a woman falling in love) Can you? Can you tell how long it has taken me to get here? Does a big-time coach like you know the kind of luck I need? Maybe one day, a scout from a Division II school will come along, see me coach, and I’ll get a contract.
CARROLL: Yes, that could happen very easily. The trouble is your dream isn’t big enough. How long is your contract at El Camino?
SARKISIAN: Wha….what? All I know right now is we leave for a road game in the morning.
CARROLL: Don’t go.
CARROLL: Leave El Camino; stay here. You can come coach for me at Southern Cal. Sure, it’s a chance, but you would be well-served to take it.
SARKISIAN: But I’d be giving up everything I ever worked for.
CARROLL: Right, but it serves a purpose. A coaching career is a curious thing; talent isn’t always enough. Timing, an eye for seeing the turning point, recognizing the big chance when it comes and grabbing it. A coaching career can rest on a trifle, like us sitting here tonight. Or it can turn on somebody saying to you “You’re better than that; you’re better than you know.” Don’t settle for the little dream, go on to the big one. Are you scared, scared to take the plunge?
SARKISIAN: Let me ask you something. What makes you so sure about me?
CARROLL: I’ve seen you coach. But you know yourself too, don’t you? You just needed someone to tell you.
SARKISIAN: Boy, I am certainly mixed up now. I thought I was doing just fine.
CARROLL: You needn’t be all mixed up; you needn’t make up your mind right now. I’ll call you first thing in the morning. Whatever you do, remember that I am right.
Act III: The Protégé Eclipses the Star
Sarkisian takes Carroll’s advice and becomes the quarterbacks coach at USC. In no time at all, he becomes a star in his own right, but a star still overshadowed by Pete Carroll. So he moves on to his own starring role, as the head coach at Washington. Of course, a Sarkisian musical number ensues.
Thank you, thank you very much
I can’t express it any other way
For with this awful trembling in my heart
I just can’t find another thing to say
I’m happy that you liked the show
I’m grateful you liked me
And I’m sure to you the tribute seemed quite right.
But if you knew of all the years
Of hopes and dreams and tears
You’d know it didn’t happen overnight
Huh, overnight!It was during a game on Saturday
They used a locker-room towel for my didee
When I first saw the light
It was white-hot from the lights
Coming from the towers on the field
When my dad carried me out there to say hello
They say they stopped the game
My coaching career was born
At a junior college called El Camino So I grew up in a crazy world of locker rooms
And hotel rooms and waiting rooms
And rooms behind-the-scenes.
And I can’t forget the endless rows
Of jeering fans and cheering fans
And nights without a solid offensive scheme
But it’s all in the game and the way you play it
And you’ve got to play the game you know
When your coaching career was born
At a junior college called El Camino
But then I went to where the song girl sings
At first I just stood and watched from the wings
That’s all that Norm Chow would allow
But as I got older, I got a little bolder
And called my own plays anyhow
They kept me in the act For coaching quarterbacks
Until Washington did a crazy thing
Hired me to coach all alone
Norm Chow said ‘You’re on your own!’
And Carroll shouted ‘This is it kid, coach!’
So I went north an answered the call
Let’s see what we can make of this fall
It would be a thrill to have a Trojan kill
‘Cause they’ll try to take advantage of me
(chorus of Husky fans) No!
Carroll thinks I’m an apple on the bough
That he’s gonna shake me down somehow
This ain’t the Palouse, I’ll cook his goose
Carroll won’t take advantage of me
(chorus of Husky fans) Yes!
Huskies, how I love you, how I love you
My dear old Huskies
I’d give the world if I could only be
Sitting on Don James’ knee
Your new head coach will wander no more
When I get to that Puget shore
So I can’t quite be called overnight sensation
For it started many years ago
When my coaching career was born
At a junior college called El Camino
Act IV: The End of the End
Carroll has taken the loss to Washington hard, crawling deep into a bottle. The calendar flashes back to the award ceremony. Sarkisian is getting ready to give his acceptance speech, the chair next to him reserved for Carroll sits noticeably empty. Meanwhile, Carroll prepares to enter the auditorium.
SARKISIAN: I really wish Pete was here. He’s the one who made this all possible. I hope nothing has happened to him
SCOTT: (reasurring) I’m sure nothing has happened.
ANNOUNCER: …And the winner for Pac-10 Coach of the Year is…Steve Sarkisian!
SARKISIAN: (taking the podium) When something like this happens to you; I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I didn’t keep hoping it would; all those speeches you have made up in your bedroom or in the bathtub go right out of your mind completely. You find out of all the worlds in the world, only two stick in your mind – “Thank You.” All I can do I so say them from my heart, and…(Sarkisian is interrupted by one set of hands offering sarcastic applause; they are the hands of a drunken Pete Carroll.)
CARROLL: (staggering up to the podium, in order to go all “Kanye West”) Congratulations, Steve. Looks like I made it just in time, didn’t I? May I borrow the end of your speech to make a speech of my own?
SARKISIAN: (stands bewildered)
CARROLL: My method of getting your attention may seem a bit unconventional, but hard times call for harsh measures. Uhhhh, I had my speech all prepared, but like you said, Steve, it all goes right out of your head. (staggers down and sits on the stairs leading to the podium). Seems a bit silly to be so formal seeing as know most of you sitting out there by your first names. I made a lot of money for you gentlemen, and well, I’m going to need a job now; eventually this habit of losing to non-ranked teams in conference games is going to get me fired. Anyway, that’s it, that’s the speech, I’m going to need a job.
ORGERON: (rising from his seat, Orgeron charges the stage, directly at Carroll) Yyyyyyyyyyyaaaaaawwwwwww-I’m-not-gonna-let-you-ruin-Steve’s-moment-yyyyyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwww!
SARKISIAN: Don’t hurt him, Ed!
ORGERON: Yyyyyyyyyyyaaaaaawwwwwww-he-is-just-Mr.-America-of yester-year-yyyyyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwww!
CARROLL: Take it easy, Eddie! I don’t want to forget we are friends.
CARROLL: (takes a swing at Orgeron)
ORGERON: (proceeds to sytematically dismantle Carroll) Yyyyyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwww!-So-this-is-how-it-ends-not-with-a-bang-but-with-a-whimper-yyyyyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwww! (scene fades to black with Orgeron kneeling on Carroll’s chest, wailing on his face with both fists).
Thanks to Adam Richman, I now know that is actually possible to gastrointestinally rape one’s self. So that there is no possibility of missing the full experience, Richman has demonstrated two ways in which to leave your colon a golf-bag sized miasma of undigested beef and guatemalan insanity peppers. Each week, he either attempts to eat a hamburger the size of a water tower , or something so incredibly OMFG-it’s-like-chugging-flaming-turpentine hot that even taking the challenge requires the signing of legal waivers, and the cooks wear HAZMAT gear – otherwise the vapor of the cooking peppers will cause them to do that face-melt thing just like the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Even a combo plate of the two won’t match the tsunami of destruction headed for Lane Kiffin’s alimentary canal. The post-game conference after Florida beats Tennessee eleventy-bajillion to six Saturday promises to be the Mother of all Word-Eatings, the sheer volume of which hasn’t been seen since the “Egg Scene” in “Cool Hand Luke.”
Just let yourself picture it. Kiffin scoots his chair up to an old wooden table, his eyes fixed on the eighty-pound breakfast burrito made of his own words sitting in front of him. A single bare bulb illuminates the rest of the Vols’ coaching staff huddled around Kiffin, the table, and a trash-can sized figurative wad of eggs, sausage, cheese…and ghost chile peppers.
Kiffin seems to enjoy the first few bites. In fact, there seems to be just the right blend of flavors, the kind that brings that slight smile of satisfaction. The kind of smile that can only exist in that split-second before the epiphany; the pants-shitting, “we’re-gonna-need-a-bigger-boat” moment.
Then it hits him. He doesn’t hit “the wall,” rather it lands on him like a giant boa constrictor digesting a pig stuffed inside hippo stuffed inside a walrus stuffed inside Phil Fulmer. His chair creaks ominously as his newly-increased girth settles back into it. Ed Orgeron begins to vigorously rub Kiffin’s shoulders (“EEEEEEEEYYYAAAAAAWWW -YOU-GET-MAD-AT-THEM-DAMNED-EGGS-YYYYAAAAAAAAAWWW!!!!!!!“) in what has to be painfully inappropriate encouragement, as Kiffin currently has 23 pounds of undigested food in his esophagus alone.
His eyes roll back in his head as during the sigh of surrender just as the fire from peppers bursts from his mouth like a fusion-powered blast furnace. Bits of incindiary burrito rain fire across the room. Kiffin’s torso splits open, shooting flames like an oil-rig fire. Ed Orgeron sweeps Layla Kiffin under one of his “way-too-manly-too-die-in-a-fire-like-you-pussies” arms and dives out a window, the two of them never to be seen again.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure it will look exactly that way.