Rumors fly that JoePa will retire after bowl game

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A couple of days before Penn State’s regular-season finale against Michigan State, Joe Paterno made it very clear that he intends on returning for the 2011 season.

“I’m looking forward to it,” the 84-year-old coach, whose three-year contract expires next year, said. “I think we can be a pretty good football team next year, and I’d like to be a part of it. … It’s been a good situation and I don’t see any reason to leave it right now.”

Those words put out there for public consumption, however, may belie what’s truly going on behind the scenes a month later.  The speculation has been ongoing for many days, if not weeks, and has now become too loud, too consistent and, most importantly, too voluminous to ignore.

If the rumblings are correct, Coach Paterno will lead Penn State in the Outback Bowl and then ride off into the retirement sunset.  Again.  Allegedly.

At least that’s what multiple sources in and around the athletic department are saying, all of whom state very emphatically that the wheels have been set in motion for Paterno to step down gracefully following the bowl game and for the school to commence a national search for someone currently outside of the football program to replace the living legend.  All point to significant health concerns as being the reason behind the rumored abdication of his Happy Valley throne.

Rumors of family and close friends filling up extra planes to be with him for the bowl game abound, as do the connotations drawn from Tom Bradley, his loyal and trusted assistant of 32 years, actively seeking the Temple opening ultimately filled by Steve Addazio.  One former Nittany Lion player still connected to the program suggested to CFT that Bradley’s involvement in the Owls hunt for a new head coach is the biggest sign yet that the end is near for Paterno.  “If Coach [Paterno] were going to be around, or if they were going to stay in-house [for a replacement], [Bradley] wouldn’t have been aggressively eyeballing [the Temple opening],” the ex-player, who requested his name not be used, explained.  Additionally, Paterno allegedly struggled mightily at the senior banquet at season’s end, with his players supposedly tweeting about their coach being “out of it” and Paterno referencing playing in a “Thanksgiving bowl game”.

It’s all been woven together into such a convincing and compelling argument that, this time, all of the talk of Paterno’s coaching death may not be exaggerated.

It should be very clearly and very plainly noted, however: we are not reporting that Paterno is stepping down/retiring/resigning after the bowl game.  Rather, we are merely pointing to innuendo that’s beginning to overwhelm the rumor mill and needs to at least be addressed.  In seeking to track down the veracity of these rumors, we reached out to the school for a comment.

“Coach Paterno has already publicly stated his plan to continue coaching and we have no comment on rumor or speculation to the contrary,” PSU Assistant Athletic Director/Communications Jeff Nelson told CFT in an email Wednesday evening. Interestingly, Nelson also pointed us to an Associated Press story in which the writer notes that Paterno was “spry-looking” following practice Wednesday.

In that AP article, Paterno was still talking about next year and still giving no hints that he was doing anything but returning.  Speaking to reporters as the Nittany Lions prepared for the Outback Bowl, Paterno said that the team would be using this game as a springboard for 2011, intimating once again that he would be involved.

“We’ve got a very young team,” Paterno said according to the Associated Press. “We’ve got about 60 kids here that are freshmen and sophomores. Some of them are pretty good athletes that need some work. So I think in that sense you’re hoping that you can get some things developed that are going to carry over to next year. But no matter what, you’ve got to play a team like Florida, you ought to try and win.”

Because of his age and longevity — Lyndon Johnson was sitting in the Oval Office when Paterno took over as Penn State’s head coach — speculation has swirled around an “imminent” departure for more than a decade.  This time around, though, there’s more smoke surrounding his status than there’s ever been, signaling there may be a very real fire burning underneath all of the innuendo.

Only time will tell whether or not this latest round of rumor mongering is yet another false alarm.  Or whether it’s a fully involved five-alarm blaze that won’t be extinguished until after the New Year.

Ex-UCLA OC helped convince Wilton Speight to transfer to Westwood

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When Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight announced he was going to graduate and transfer to UCLA, many were caught by surprise given that the 6-foot-6 pro-style passer is not your typical fit for Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense. While the new Bruins’ head coach brought up how Sam Bradford and Nick Foles ran his system to convince the quarterback to pick the school for the 2018 season, it was a former assistant at the program who appears to have been just as convincing in bringing the big QB to Westwood.

That would be Jedd Fisch, who was Speight’s coach in Ann Arbor for two years before he left to take the offensive coordinator job with the Bruins when Jim Mora was still in charge last season. The veteran coach returned to the NFL as an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams shortly after Kelly was hired but he reconnected with his old pupil to give him an honest assessment of how he’d fit in with a school sporting a different shade of blue.

“As a coach, you can kind of sniff out the B.S.,” Speight told the LA Times, “and he was able to do that and say, ‘Look, you’re getting what you see at UCLA and I think it’s the right fit,’ and I couldn’t have agreed more.”

Speight will join a very competitive race to be the starter for the opener against Cincinnati when fall camp rolls around. Devon Modster is the incumbent having gotten experience last year when Josh Rosen was held out of several games while incoming freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson is considered the future at the position and figures to see early playing time.

It remains to be seen just how good UCLA will be in their first season with Kelly in charge but the head coach will certainly have a variety of options to choose from at the most important position on the field this year.

Proposed California amendment would cap coaches salaries at $200,000

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Some states do everything they can to help out athletics programs in their borders, that is something that California has never really been accused of doing. A state-wide travel ban has already caused some ripples with regards to scheduling for some teams and it seems lawmakers in Sacramento are back with a new constitutional amendment that could hamper schools ability to pay their coaches.

UCLA student paper The Daily Bruin passes along news that a new constitutional amendment was announced last week “that aims to restrict the University of California’s autonomy by reducing staff salaries, the length of regents’ terms and the authority of the UC president.” That first item is the biggest to take note of, which would institute a cap on non-faculty salaries to $200,000 per year — something that would affect everybody from coaches to the athletic director and everybody in between.

The University of California (UC) system most notably includes Pac-12 schools like UCLA and Cal, which means coaches like Chip Kelly and Justin Wilcox could be affected. To take Kelly as an example, he signed a five-year contract worth a total of $23.3 million when he was hired by the Bruins this offseason.

Head football coaches salaries are not typically paid completely by a school directly however, so there is some wiggle room should this amendment wind up passing. Often a separate athletics organization will foot most of the bill using funds raised from donors while other outside companies sometimes also get involved. Things might be a little more interesting when it comes to assistant’s salaries or non-football/men’s basketball head coaches and support staffers however, who could fall under the purview of the cap.

In other words, some creative accounting practices might have to be implemented by schools like UCLA or Cal or else they’ll be at a significant disadvantage compared to their private school peers like USC or Stanford as well as conference rivals like Arizona or Oregon.

It’s far from certain the amendment will pass given that it requires a two-thirds vote in the state legislature as well as passing muster on a state-wide ballot measure during a general election. We don’t typically see college coaches wade too far into political waters but, in this case, they might be forced to because its one that directly affects their wallets.

Arkansas moving back to natural grass field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2019

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It’s a new era at Arkansas with Chad Morris and a new athletic director in charge and not even the turf will be spared from seeing changes.

Per the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the school will be moving to a natural grass field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium instead of replacing their current artificial turf again as it nears the end of its lifespan.

“Let me say my preference is I love natural grass,” Morris told the paper a few months ago. “That’s just me. Maybe that’s just the high school coach in me.

“Worrying about what the next surface out here looks like is irrelevant to me. I just want to get through a practice and get better today. But I prefer, I’m a natural grass type of guy. I love being on a grass field. There’s nothing better than that in college football, or football period.”

Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek confirmed this weekend that the change was being made in Fayetteville after the 2018 season concludes. The current turf was put in back in the Bobby Petrino era in 2009 and will need to be replaced after a decade or so of heavy use.

This will not be the end of Razorbacks playing on turf however, as they will not only see the stuff for games at neutral sites and at other SEC opponents but also when they make their annual trek to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock — which had turf installed a dozen years ago.

West Virginia President on old Big 12 expansion craze: ‘Little bit messy’

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E. Gordon Gee is one of college athletics’ most recognizable figures, which isn’t exactly what you typically say about school leaders like him. The West Virginia President known for his trademark bow tie (and who has never shied away from an interview or a quip he didn’t like) is on the cusp of his first set of spring meetings in the conference as the new chairman of the Big 12 board of directors.

Speaking to the Dallas Morning News about a range of issues around the league prior to meeting in Dallas, Gee seems to have come around on conference expansion from a few years ago and thinks it not only could have been handled better, but it probably shouldn’t be done in the first place because being the smallest Power Five league has its advantages too.

“I’m not certain it was the best way to do it,” Gee told the paper. “It was a little bit messy — and I was part of the mess.

“Intimacy gives us an opportunity to do something that a lot of other places can’t do… We’ll play to our strengths. We’re small, but we can be very aggressive in positioning ourselves uniquely.”

I’m sure the folks at places like Houston and BYU would agree the entire process was messy but will certainly disagree with Gee about the Big 12 sticking with just 10 members. It certainly sounds as though the issue has been put to bed for the foreseeable future but if the merry-go-round gets going once again, at least we know that the process everybody goes through will be a lot different.