Frankie O: Joe Pa passing the torch to Coach Fitz

Frankie O: Joe Pa passing the torch to Coach Fitz

Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010
4:49 PM

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Growing up outside of Philadelphia, there was only one college football team that I rooted for. It wasnt like college basketball, and the Big Five, where as a kid, my rooting interest could change from year to year, depending on who was making a run. No, where I was from, there was only one team: Penn State. And that team was, and still is, dominated by one man: Joe Paterno. Joe-Pa. He has been wearing his white socks and short pant-legs on the Penn State sidelines since 1950! Hes in his 61st season, first as an assistant, then as the head-coach since 1966. In an age of carpet-bagger coaches and a win-at-all-costs sport, he is a constant reminder of how it used to be, make that, how it should be. One of the frequent questions I get at the bar, since I did some time at PSU, is: When is Joe going to retire? To them, its like hes in a race that is already over. I always smile, and say, Whenever he wants to, which means: NEVER. I then add that hes earned the right to do whatever he wants. He has built the program to what it is: One of the most storied programs in college football that has over 107,000(!) devout followers in Beaver Stadium every time they play. But its more than that, way more. For those of us that follow the program, he does represent a connection to our pasts, because hes been there so long, but he also is a testament to doing it right. The thing about Joe is that he has never been shy about voicing his opinion.

Much like my parents, when I was younger I didnt always get where he was coming from, (Im sure he has a few players that feel the same way.) but as I have gotten much, much older, he makes more sense every day. I think the term, old school values, would fit him, and our perception of him, very well. His being where he is, in every sense of the word, is one of the few constants of my life and one that I treasure. (I want him on that wall. I need him on that wall!) So for me, Joe can stay as long as he likes, no matter what his record is, which of late, is pretty darn good: In the last 5 seasons PSU is 57-16, with a 32-13 record in the Big Ten and a 4-1 mark in bowl games. Not bad for someone too old to do his job. But like I said it is more than just his record.

Like anyone else that follows college football, I was very interested in seeing Joe get win number four-hundred. If someone has to reach that plateau, it should be him. Of course, in what has been a recurring theme for me sports-wise lately, the game did offer some conflict. My new guilty-pleasure in college football has been rooting for the Northwestern Wildcats. Since Ive lived in Chicago, they have risen above their well deserved history as football laughingstocks. The thing that has really gotten my attention though, is that they seem to be doing it the right way. Especially since Pat Fitzgerald has taken over. Hes a local that went to NU and starred as a 2-time All-America. He then wanted to coach at his alma mater. That is where he wants to be. Although he got the head-coaching job a little sooner than anyone would have liked due to the tragic passing of then coach Randy Walker, he was where he belonged. That he publicly rebuffed Notre Dame during their last head-coaching search only endeared him more to me. Hes a hot commodity in coaching circles, but wants to stay where he feels he belongs. He kind of reminds me of a young you-know-who. I guess it was fitting then in Joes quest for 400 that he would be standing across the field. Talk about the past versus the present, who writes this stuff? But thats the fun of sports and life. Sometimes the stars align in ways you never imagined.

It was a great game. It was loaded with action, back and forth and the energy from the stadium leapt out from the TV screen, a great fall afternoon of Big Ten football. But oddly enough that wont be my lasting memory, or the image that stayed with me. That occurred after the game, when both head-coaches met at the center of the field for the post-game congratulatory hand-shake. It started as a hand-shake, then a semi-embrace, then a connection of foreheads as Fitz congratulated Joe, then Joe began to talk, and talk. The respect and affection that they shared for each other was more than obvious. In fact, it was one of the coolest TV moments I can remember. Could you imagine being a young head-coach and having one of the gods sharing his thoughts with you, in what is supposed to be his moment? Can you imagine being near the end, and at the top, and sharing with someone whom you feel is worthy of carrying on? It was a moment of clarity for me, Mr. Cynical, about the goodness that can come from the big-business that has become college football. That you can still compete, but not have to sacrifice everything you stand for to do so. So as I watched their exchange, I felt good that the legacy of Joe was being passed on. That it is being passed on to someone who represents another team, makes it even better.

Blackhawks: Keith unlikely to play first four preseason games

Blackhawks: Keith unlikely to play first four preseason games

Duncan Keith was already deemed unlikely to play in many, if any, Blackhawks preseason games, when training camp opened. As of now, it doesn’t look like he’ll be in the first few.

Keith will probably not play in the Blackhawks’ first four preseason games, assistant coach Kevin Dineen said following Monday’s training camp sessions. As for whether or not Keith will play in any, that’s still up in the air.

“That’s a question that Dunc and the medical staff, Stan [Bowman], Joel [Quenneville], we’ll all get to that. I wouldn’t foresee him certainly in these first four games. I would say that’s not going to happen,” Dineen said. “We’ll let him keep progressing on his timetable that he’s on now.”

Keith has been participating in one practice each day but has not been in any of the scrimmages. Assistant coach Mike Kitchen said Keith has asked to skate in the team’s second practice each day – each session is about 20-25 minutes – but the Blackhawks have told him no. As of now, both Dineen and Kitchen figure Keith will be ready for the regular-season opener but the Blackhawks will continue to be prudent with him.

“He’s out there wheeling around, doing well,” Dineen said. “We had a good chat with him today. He feels like he has a lot of jump but not a lot of stamina right now. We’ll continue the way we’ve handled it so far. We’ll keep moving forward that way.”

Players returning soon

Patrick Kane, who was at the United Center on Monday afternoon, will skate with the Blackhawks on Tuesday. Defenseman Michal Kempny will also join Tuesday’s sessions. Dineen said Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin are expected to join the Blackhawks on Friday.

Neither Kane nor Kempny are expected to play Wednesday vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]​

Pokka is back

Defenseman Ville Pokka, who played for Team Finland in the World Cup of Hockey, skated with the Blackhawks on Monday.

“Anybody coming back from Toronto over the last two weeks is going to have a heck of a lot of confidence,” Dineen said. “A young kid like that getting the chance to represent his country on the international stage is a great honor and a pick-me-up heading into training camp and the season.”

First cuts made

The Blackhawks made their first round of cuts on Monday, sending Radovan Bondra, John Dahlstrom, Nathan Noel and Roy Radke to their respective junior teams. The active roster is now at 57 players.

Looking back at Texas in 2013 and setting Notre Dame’s defensive expectations

Looking back at Texas in 2013 and setting Notre Dame’s defensive expectations

After allowing 40 points in an embarrassing road loss at Brigham Young three years ago, Texas coach Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Diaz, whose defense only had one sack at the time of his firing, was replaced by a defensive analyst with coordinator experience. Sound familiar?

In-season, high-profile coordinator firings aren’t completely unheard of at the college level, but they are rare. So with Notre Dame replacing Brian VanGorder with Greg Hudson on Sunday, we can look back at Texas’ 2013 season as a rough blueprint for setting expectations for the Irish defense going forward. 

And the expectation is this: A mid-season firing of a coordinator probably won’t fix a broken defense. It didn’t necessarily do that at Texas. 

Like VanGorder’s 2015 defense, Diaz’s group in 2012 was inconsistent and prone to debilitating showings: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State all scored 40 or more points against the Longhorns, with Texas losing three of those four games in a 9-4 season. 

So with championship expectations still on Brown at Texas, and a defense clearly in regression, Brown fired Diaz — who earned $700,000, about $400,000 lower than the salary ESPN reported VanGorder earned in 2014 — just two games into the 2013 season. Here’s how Texas fared after jettisoning Diaz and promoting former Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to that post in Austin:

Lost, 44-23, vs. Ole Miss (allowed 6.24 yards per play)
Won, 31-21, vs. Kansas State (allowed 5.74 yards per play)
Won, 31-30, at Iowa State (allowed 6.01 yards per play)
Won, 36-20, vs. Oklahoma (allowed 4.46 yards per play)
Won, 30-7, at TCU (allowed 3.90 yards per play)
Won, 35-13, vs. Kansas (allowed 5.19 yards per play)
Won, 47-40, at West Virginia (allowed 4.81 yards per play)
Lost, 38-13, vs. Oklahoma State (allowed 6.13 yards per play)
Won, 41-16. vs Texas Tech (allowed 4.95 yards per play)
Lost, 30-10, at Baylor (allowed 5.52 yards per play)
Lost, 30-7, vs. Oregon (allowed 6.90 yards per play)

Texas still struggled to stop the Big 12’s most powerful offenses in Oklahoma State and Baylor, as well as Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. That win over Oklahoma certainly was impressive — the Sooners went on to beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl — and this group did do better in terms of putting pressure on opposing offenses, but for the most part, Texas’ defense was still an up-and-down group. 

Its defense did well against Kansas State, Oklahoma, TCU and Texas Tech but struggled to stop Ole Miss, Iowa State and West Virginia. Robinson didn’t magically turn Texas into a reliably-competitive defense: The Longhorns finished 44th in defensive S&P+, 57th in scoring defense (25.8 PPG) and 62nd in yards per play (5.48). It wasn’t good enough to allow Texas to compete for a Big 12 championship (of course, it's worth noting Texas' offense wasn't, either). 

Notre Dame’s circumstances are different, with the Irish possessing a much better offense this year than Texas had three years ago (Case McCoy and a banged-up David Ash were largely ineffective) but less talent on defense (both Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed totaled double-digit sacks; Notre Dame only has one sack as a team through four games). 

But the lesson here is that a mid-season coordinator change shouldn’t be expected to completely fix a defense. For Notre Dame’s sake, it has to hope Hudson can, at least, inject something into this defense to marginally improve it enough to get the Irish to six wins and bowl eligibility.