When Illinois (6-2 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten) plays at No. 21 Penn State (7-1, 4-0) on Saturday, the Nittany Lions are rolling again and sitting atop the Leaders Division. Joe Paterno tied former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson on Saturday for the most wins by a Division I coach. They have 408 apiece.
CHAMPAIGN -- Here's how life has changed for Joe Paterno, the 84-year-old Penn State coaching legend.
While speaking with Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald before their game last weekend, Paterno said he'd one day like to meet Fitzgerald's three young sons. No problem. Fitzgerald's wife would bring them by the coaches box at halftime.
"Pat is one of the great people I know in football,'' Paterno said. "He's a classy guy. I've talked to him on different occasions. He's got those three boys. I told him, 'Hopefully, someday I get a chance to say hello to them and tell them how good their old man is.'
"They're great-looking kids. We gave each other high-fives. It was kind of fun. It was fun for me. I was glad to hear the kids enjoyed it.''
Leading 27-24 at halftime at Northwestern, Paterno didn't make the trip to the locker room. That's not unusual these days, and Paterno has surrounded himself with experienced and loyal assistants who take care of things, including that 34-24 win against the Wildcats.
Paterno is slowing down. Time has a way of doing that to all of us. Yet when Illinois (6-2 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten) plays at No. 21 Penn State (7-1, 4-0) on Saturday, the Nittany Lions are rolling again and sitting atop the Leaders Division. Paterno tied former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson on Saturday for the most wins by a Division I coach. They have 408 apiece.
"I'm not where I want to be, the blazing speed I used to have,'' Paterno said, drawing a round of laughter during his weekly press conference. "It's been tough. It's a pain in the neck, let me put it that way.''
Since Paterno took over as Penn State coach in 1966, there were 888 coaching changes in major-college football, nine U.S. presidents, seven expansions to Beaver Stadium and 17 New Year's Day bowl wins by the Nittany Lions. He's been a member of the Penn State coaching staff for 62 years.
This isn't the Joe Paterno whose Nittany Lions started the season with 8-0 or 7-1 records in 11 of the 15 years stretching from 1972 through 1986. He's delegating authority, riding a golf cart in practice, working from home and staying on campus while his assistants hit the road recruiting.
Paterno suffered a hairline fracture to his pelvis, according to reports, after a blindside hit during practice in August. In 2008, Paterno hurt his hip while demonstrating an onside kick. Five years ago, Paterno's leg was broken in a sideline hit during a game against Wisconsin.
"I try to do as much walking as I can in practice, but after a while it gets very, very sore, and I have a tough time walking the last half hour of practice or so,'' he said.
Paterno's input isn't as direct as it used to be. He relays messages to the coaching staff, who deliver it to the players.
"But what are you going to do, you know?'' Paterno said. "I don't think it's affected the chance for the football team to get better because of the staff.
"I've turned over things to the staff at times where I used to get in there and mix it up with the kids a little bit, which I hope I'll get back to. But I'll yell at one of the coaches, 'Tell that guy to do this,’ when the old days I might grab the kid myself and get right in the middle, in the middle of the field and grab him and say, 'How many times do I tell you to do it this way?'
"It's a little different environment than I like. The staff has adjusted well. I think the kids have, too.''
Paterno is still a wise-cracker. He won't be badgered into naming a starting quarterback even though it appears to be Matt McGloin, who threw for 192 yards and two touchdowns while taking every snap against Northwestern.
When asked Tuesday about the starter at a position shared by McGloin and Rob Bolden in the first seven games, Paterno replied: "I haven't got the slightest idea yet. That' s why we are practicing.''
Sophomore running back Silas Redd rushed for a career-high 164 yards against Northwestern, giving him four consecutive 100-yard games. Redd leads the league with 869 yards on the ground.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSupinie.
A look at Penn State
Record: 7-1, 4-0 in the Big Ten.
So far: Def. Indiana State 41-7, lost to Alabama 27-11, def. Temple 14-10, def. Eastern Michigan 34-6, def. Indiana 16-10, def. Iowa 13-3, def. Purdue 23-18, def. Northwestern 34-24.
Coach: Joe Paterno, 408-136-3 in 46th year at Penn State and overall.
Players to watch: QB Matt McGloin, RB Silas Redd, WR Devon Smith (297 yards receiving, 2 TDs), LB Gerald Hodges (58 tackles), S Drew Astorino 42 tackles, 1 interception).
Did you know? Redd averaged 26 carries over the last four games.
Quote: "I'm a little nervous (about being on the field). I'm trying to find where everyone is. I don't want to get run into again. It's a pain in the neck.'' -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno.