One of the inevitable things that happens as seasons draw to a close is doing post-mortems on teams that do not meet expectations. As the Seminoles and Nittany Lions start looking towards next year, the pressure on Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno to move on grows on each uninspiring performance.
Is it fair? No. These men have earned the right to leave on their own terms.
Is it right? I think you can make the argument that it is time to look forward to the future here, for two separate reasons.
First, Bowden. While some may say the game has passed Bobby by, the real reason for the palace coup we hear coming out of Tallahassee has to do with performance, or the perception that FSU is underperforming. While it's true that the Seminoles are not in the title hunt, it is fair to say that as a whole, the entire ACC is underperforming.
Where Bowden gets nicked is he has never run the tightest ship in the Navy at Florida State, and as long as you win, that's fine. Boosters, who sometimes are the biggest trouble in a program, tend to over look things if you win. Florida State hasn't won, therefore find a scapegoat in Bowden.
Bowden's fate has probably already been decided.
Paterno's fate, however, is completely in his hands. Frankly, while it's not fair to say the game has passed him by, the style of football that Paterno used to become great is long gone. You can't run and play to stop the run and win ten games anymore. Penn State was successful for years because they had better talent. They could out will you and demoralize you and pound you. But, most teams were one dimensional on offense. That is what has changed, the top teams can beat you now on the ground and in the air.
Paterno's magic isn't in his game planing, in fact he's too loyal to his assistants who have too much control of the game plan to begin with, it is his motivational skills. His teams are ready on Saturday. He gets the maximum effort out of them, each and every game. And for that effort, along with his incredible affection for Penn State, he has the undying affection of a very passionate fan base. I think Joepa falls on his sword before he would clean house on his coaches, this is a man of honor.
So what happens here?
Well lets say that both coaches leave after this year. Can you honestly say that they are better off without their iconic coaches? No, and here is why.
Legends are hard to replace, even under the best of circumstances. Whomever you bring in to run the program will be measured for the same pair of pants as the God that wore them before. The losses become magnified.
Example, Penn State loses to, lets say, Ohio State on an interception. It comes on a third and short call. The press, blogosphere, fans, and boosters spend the next 48 hours ripping the coach apart because Paterno would have run on 3rd and 2, and since you didn't, you suck.
Think I'm kidding? Who managed he Yankees after Casey Stengel was fired? Why did Bill Guthridge last two seasons at North Carolina after Dean Smith retired despite reching the Final Four? Why hasn't UCLA found John Wooden? The answer is that you can't replace greatness with greatness. Roy Williams isn't available every season to restore programs like North Carolina. Ask Ray Perkins and Jerry Faust how easy it was to replace Bear Bryant or Dan Devine. It isn't.
And that's why these schools are stuck. There isn't a Bobby Bowden or a Joe Paterno waiting to replace them. While changing the philosophy maybe good in the long haul how many seasons does the fan base get stuck on coach x not being legend y? Does the Athletic Department demand that these coaches change to win, or do they defer to the wisdom of the program.
College football is finicky. Unlike baseball, or even basketball, where you can lose one night and win the next, you must live with the results in football for a week. Bowden and Paterno have spoiled their fans rotten with success over the years, pushing them out not only is not easy, but imprudent without planning for the future.