Ruthless stuff, this Codger Roulette. It is not for the squeamish. It is not for the faint of heart.
And so Penn State has thrown down the gauntlet. It has drawn a line in the dirt, and also one across the bottom of a contract. It has wrapped football coach Joe Paterno securely in a three-year extension.
With that singular, cunning move, all eyes now turn, of course, to FSU president T.K. Wetherell.
So, T.K. Are you gonna take that?
To most of the nation, it seemed like a grand gesture when the Penn State administration announced this week that, yes, it had decided to let Paterno hang around for three more years. After all, who doesn't need a little more security as they enter their later years, and who knows what the economy has done to Paterno's 401(k).
For FSU, however, this announcement can be interpreted only as a direct challenge. Any minute now, you expect Wetherell to see Penn State's three-year extension and raise it a fourth year with an option for Bobby Bowden.
Otherwise, how else is one coach supposed to outgeezer another?
Okay, okay. I'm kidding. In about 10 minutes, maybe five, I'll be a geezer myself. After that, I hope to graduate to full-fledged coot.
Besides, I'm on record as saying that Paterno and Bowden built their programs into what they are, and as such, they deserve to go out whenever they want. Yes, Paterno will be 82 on Sunday, and yes, Bowden is 79. We're talking about legends, for goodness' sake. Just because there is persistent grumbling from the bumper-sticker crowd shouldn't change that.
Honestly, though, aren't you getting the feeling it's awfully important to these guys to finish with more wins than the other? Aren't there times you think the only thing that is keeping Joe going is Bobby and his 381 victories, and the only thing that is keeping Bobby going is Joe and his 383? It's like watching the Sunshine Boys with whistles. It's like the Bucket List if warm milk was in the bucket.
Even for the rest of us, it is hard to separate one coach from the other these days. They are tied together by age and accomplishment, and because of it, a strange symbiosis has developed. It is difficult to read news about one without thinking about how it impacts the other.
For instance, the first thing that struck me about Paterno's extension was: Why three years? Didn't Paterno think two was long enough to establish himself? Was four years just too long for him to stay in one place?
Or perhaps, just perhaps, was it because Bowden might have only two years left?
Remember, 2011 is the year Jimbo Fisher, FSU's head-coach-in-waiting, is scheduled to either take over or cash out. If Fisher isn't the head coach by then, he gets a $5-million consolation prize. Add that to Bowden's paycheck and it means FSU would pay a fortune for coaches. Don't think that won't add to the pressure on Bowden.
And so you wonder:
Does this extension guarantee that Paterno will win more games than Bowden?
Does it mean that FSU will soon face the choice of either paying off Fisher, running off Bowden or ticking off everyone else?
Maybe it's just me, but I never have warmed to this "designated successor" assistant coach that has grown so popular. (Texas, Oregon, Purdue and Kentucky are on board, not to mention the Colts, Seahawks and Cowboys of the NFL.)
It's like a team playing two quarterbacks. If the situation isn't handled delicately, sides get taken, and things can end up ugly. Familiar faces can get squeezed out by new hopes.
Take the situation at FSU. Some fans are prepared to give Fisher the keys to the stadium right now, although his first two seasons as offensive coordinator suggest he has a little more convincing to do. (To be fair, Fisher's recruits are going to need a little more time to grow into his offense.)
Then there is Bowden. What if he still wants to coach in 2011? Wetherell always has suggested that it will be up to Bowden to decide when he wants to retire. Say Bowden is one game ahead of Paterno. Say he's one game behind. How loud do you think the grumbling would be then if he wanted to return?
And if he did, who is to say Paterno wouldn't get another three-year extension? And so forth. This could go on forever.
Who knows? Twenty years from now, maybe it ends in a tie.
Gary Shelton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8805.