Penn State's JoePa could've been a Michigan man

Oct 23, 2009 - 7:09 PM By LARRY LAGE AP Sports Writer

ANN ARBOR, Mich.(AP) -- JoePa had a chance to become a Michigan man four decades ago.

Early in his storied career at Penn State, Joe Paterno met with Michigan athletic director Don Canham in Pittsburgh after the 1968 season.

"We talked and he offered me the job," Paterno recalled. "They hired Bo Schembechler."

The Wolverines lured Schembechler away from Miami of Ohio in 1969 and when he retired two decades years later, his 234 victories trailed just Bear Bryant, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Pop Warner and Woody Hayes.

"Once a year Don used to write me a letter and say, `Thanks!"' Paterno said, laughing.

It turned out to be a win-win for both schools.

Paterno stuck with Penn State and now he's in his 44th season in charge and 60th on its coaching staff. JoePa's 324th win broke Bryant's record in 2001 and after Bobby Bowden surged ahead, he took the lead back last year.

Paterno will lead the 13th-ranked Nittany Lions (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) Saturday on the road against Rich Rodriguez and Michigan (5-2, 1-2) with a chance to extend his mark with a 390th victory.

The 46-year-old Rodriguez, who became a head coach in 1988 at Salem College, can't imagine coaching as long as the 82-year-old Paterno has in college football.

"What he and Bobby Bowden has done, it's amazing and I don't think it ever will be duplicated," Rodriguez said. "I think his record and Bobby Bowden's record will be there for a long, long time. They're going to have to hire somebody when they're 12 and hope the person stays till he's 50."

Paterno and Rodriguez, though, do have something in common.

They were not universally popular during their debut seasons.

Rodriguez lost a school-record nine games last year, and college football's winningest program looked like it might be in trouble.

The Wolverines, though, surpassed their 2008 victory total in September and now are a win away from being bowl-eligible a season after missing out on postseason play for the first time in three-plus decades.

"Rich Rodriguez, I know, got a lot of flack last year," Paterno said.

JoePa knows the feeling.

"My first year, people wanted to get rid of me," Paterno recalled. "I lost five games first year I coached. Next year we only lost two. I think it takes a while sometimes for kids to get adjusted to a different style.

"If you look at Rich's record, I think he's had a history of maybe the first year hasn't been the one that everybody would like to have, but his second year he's had football teams."

Rodriguez won just three games in his first season at West Virginia in 2001 - just as he did last year at Michigan - then bounced back with a nine-win season. Glenville State won only one game in his first year, then was 4-5-1 the next season.

The Wolverines aren't ready to declare their program completely turned around, but a strong finish and some help could put them in a position to contend for the Big Ten title.

"This thing's going to play out till the end probably," Rodriguez said. "We just hope we're in it."

Penn State and Michigan, both of which lost to Iowa, will see where they stand after playing at the Big House.

The Nittany Lions have won six games by lopsided margins, but they've beaten lackluster opponents and have played only one road game.

"This will definitely be a test for us," quarterback Daryll Clark said. "But we are definitely a football team that doesn't mind flying under the radar.

"Everyone is not sold on us, and that's fine."

Michigan has skeptics, too, because its only quality win was against then-No. 18 Notre Dame in the second game of the season - and its 0-2 on the road.

If the Wolverines can upset Penn State, a lot more will be known about how good they are this season.

"You can use it as a measuring stick because Penn State has a great defense and a great team," tight end Kevin Koger said. "We'll see where we're at on Saturday."






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