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Penn State Football: Paterno Could Tie 408 Victory Milestone vs. Northwestern

by on October 18, 2011 12:30 AM

It’s been 50 weeks since Joe Paterno got his historic 400th victory.

And on Saturday -- 350 days since 400 -- he could reach another major coaching milestone, once again in a game against Northwestern.

On Nov. 6, 2010, the Nittany Lions recorded the biggest home comeback victory in Paterno’s 46-year coaching career. Down 21 points in the first half against Northwestern, they roared back to score five consecutive touchdowns and win 35-21.

The win made Paterno only the third coach in NCAA college history to hit the 400-victory mark (he’s now 407-136-3).

And on Saturday in Evanston, Ill., the Penn State legend could tie the late Eddie Robinson for No. 2 on the all-time list, with 408 victories.

That’s if he wins. The odds – Penn State is a 4-point favorite – are that he will.

The Nittany Lions, ranked 21st in the inaugural 2011 BCS rankings released this week, are 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten – the only team in the conference with three victories. Penn State is first in the Big Ten’s Leaders Division.

Northwestern, at 0-3 in the conference and 2-4 overall, is fifth in the Legends division. The Wildcats are riding a four-game losing streak, with losses against Army, Illinois, Michigan and Iowa. A Hawkeye team that managed just three points against Penn State two weeks ago scored 41 points on Saturday against Northwestern.

408 AND 480

Robinson coached for 46 years at Grambling State University in Louisiana, recording a 408-165-15 record, for a winning percentage of .707. He won nine black college football titles.

Robinson retired from coaching under a cloud of controversy at age 78. Over his final three seasons as head coach, Grambling went a combined 11-22 – with season records of 5-6, 3-8 and 3-8. Robinson was succeeded by a former Granbling player, ex-NFL quarterback and Super Bowl champion Doug Williams.

Even after he passes Robinson, Paterno will still be far behind college football’s all-time winningest coach, Saint John University’s John Gagliardi, who has 480 victories.

But Paterno is gaining.

Since the start of the 2011 season, Paterno has picked up four wins on Gagliardi.

The Johnnies, who play in Division III, are 2-4 in 2011, having lost their last three games. Located in Collegeville, Minn., SJU was off last week. It faces Gustavus Adolphus College on the road in St. Peter on Saturday in the seventh game of their 10-game season.

CLOSING THE GAP

If Paterno keeps winning at his 2011 pace, while Gagliardi continues his slide, Paterno will catch him in 10-1/2 seasons -- assuming PSU plays 13 games a season and SJU plays 10. And that’s assuming Gagliardi continues to coach. After all, wasn’t it just last week that Paterno kidded he wanted to coach 10 more years?

Paterno, who won just 26 games from 2000-04 before rebounding with 64 wins since 2005, can empathize with Gagliardi’s recent stretch.

“Everybody has rough seasons,” Paterno told Frank Rajkowski of the St. Cloud Times last week. “None of us is an exception to that. I’m sure he’ll take a look at what the situation is and figure out if it was just a few bad breaks, or if he has a couple of kids who aren’t playing as well as they should, and he’ll figure out where to go from there.

Gagliardi has been a head football coach for 63 years, the past 59 years at Saint John’s. He had a 24-6-1 record at Carroll College in Helena, Mont., before going to SJU in 1953. His record at Saint John’s is 456-127-10, and he is 480-133-11 overall.

Both Paterno and Galiardi will soon turn 85. Gagliardi’s birthday is Nov. 1, while Paterno’s is Dec. 21. Not surprisingly, Paterno said he thinks the SJU legend shouldn’t be deterred by his recent losing streak.

“All of us who admire him just hope that they can get things turned around there,” Paterno said, “and that he keeps going for as long as he wants to coach.”

Sound familiar?

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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