Paterno an overwhelming choice as coach of year

NEW YORK -- Joe Paterno doesn't have to say "I told you so."

Paterno, who turns 79 on Wednesday, got an early birthday present Tuesday when he was an overwhelming choice as The Associated Press college football coach of the year.

So much for critics who said the game had passed him by.

"The only thing I wanted to do is try to get us back to where we were a good football team and we could be very competitive and make some plays we hadn't made," he said. "We got that done, and I feel good about that."

After four losing seasons in the past five years, Paterno and the Nittany Lions rebounded to go 10-1 season, sharing the Big Ten Conference title and earning a spot in the Bowl Championship Series.

For that, Paterno received 45 of 65 votes from media members on the AP's college football poll board. Texas' Mack Brown was second with eight votes after leading the Longhorns to a perfect regular season and a spot in the Rose Bowl. Notre Dame's Charlie Weis and Southern California's Pete Carroll, whose Trojans will face Brown's Longhorns for the national title, got three votes each.

West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez received two votes. Les Miles of LSU, Steve Spurrier of South Carolina, George O'Leary of Central Florida and Tommy Tuberville of Auburn, last year's winner, each received one vote.

"It's very flattering," Paterno said. "I think anytime, regardless of whether it be my first year or my 50th year, to have people recognize what's been done is very, very ... uplifting. The only thing I feel sometimes is that the head coach gets too much credit. I think sometimes it ought to be coaching staff of the year."

Despite going 4-7 in 2004, Paterno was convinced the Nittany Lions were on the verge of good things.

In search of playmakers, he landed two of the nation's top recruits in speedy receivers Derrick Williams and Justin King. By doing so, Paterno showed that he and his staff, led by recruiting coordinator and former Penn State quarterback Mike McQueary, still were capable of bringing in blue-chippers.

Paterno believed in quarterback Michael Robinson, who spent three seasons moving from passer to runner to receiver, and gave offensive coordinator Galen Hall and quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno the job of building a system around the multidimensional senior.

Hall and Jay Paterno, Joe's son, went to Texas in the offseason to check out what Brown was doing with Vince Young.

"We got some great ideas," Joe Paterno said. "It was a big help to us, it really was."

Robinson and the fast freshmen made the Nittany Lions explosive again, and Paterno had a 21st century offense to go with a rugged defense, led by a throwback Penn State linebacker, junior Paul Posluszny.

The Nittany Lions had signature wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin and rose to No. 3 in the nation. In Paterno's 40th season, Penn State was a couple of seconds from going unbeaten. Its only loss was 27-25 at Michigan, on a last-play touchdown.

Paterno has 353 victories. Only Florida State's Bobby Bowden (359) has more among Division I-A coaches, and the two will meet in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3, Penn State's BCS debut.

Few outside Happy Valley saw this coming.

From 2000-04, Penn State was 27-33 overall and 16-24 in the Big Ten, with seven victories combined in 2003-04. Nevertheless, Paterno has never tied success solely to wins and losses.

"I never felt bad when we were 4-7 last year because I thought we had a bunch of kids that never quit," he said. "And that's the joy of coaching. It isn't 8-3. It isn't 10-1. It isn't 11-0. It isn't any of that stuff. It's did you get the most out of your football team."

Now Paterno is in vogue again. Maybe more than ever.

The doubters who cried for change, who thought Paterno was hurting the school by refusing to let go, have had to eat their words.

But don't expect Paterno to call out his critics.

"To be honest, I really have never thought that way. It's not my nature," he said. "I'm not a vindictive guy. I don't read the papers. I realize the media's got a job to do and I realize the alumni, if they're interested in your program, are going to die when you lose and so forth, and a lot of them get carried away.

"What good does it do for me to say, 'I told you so.'"