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Penn State Football: Transfers Like Bolden's Are Old, but Paterno Isn’t

by on January 04, 2011 1:18 AM

Pat Devlin left town. Kevin Newsome was left behind from the Outback Bowl.

Rob Bolden started eight games as a true freshman quarterback at Penn State in 2010.

Then he left.

Matt McGloin and Paul “I have not yet begun to fight” Jones?

They’re the quarterbacks left over for the Nittany Lions heading into 2011.

And now, because of the latest quarterback exodus, the legions of Penn State faithful (?) who bought into the private planes, the stomach cancer and Tony Dungy have decided it is time for Joe Paterno to leave. Again.

The evidence, they say, is Bolden’s skipping town, but only after he took the trip to Florida – knowing, says his father, Rob Sr., that he wasn’t coming back to Penn State for the 2011 football season.

That Joe didn’t play Bolden any more than he did -- especially with McPick snapping off INTs to Gators left and right in the Outback Bowl -- was a mistake. So was not giving Bolden more meaningful time in the second half of the season.

(But, hey, maybe Joe and son Jay had an inkling they were being Robbed after the Florida game, and didn’t want to reward a player who was emotionally out and wouldn’t be back.)

In retrospect, not playing Bolden was undeniably a mistake. Especially now that we know the freshman, greatly emboldened by his father, has gone home to Michigan. As is his right.

But c’mon, barely playing a backup quarterback is really nothing new for Paterno – right, wrong or indifferent. It’s in Joe’s DNA.

Just don’t blame old age on Bolden’s departure.

Wasn’t it Paterno, on the eve of his 45th season as head coach and his 61st on the Penn State, who anointed Bolden as the very first true freshman to start at quarterback in 100 years?

OK, so Joe was (new) hip and forward-thinking when he started Bolden against Youngstown State and seven more times in 2010. But he’s just a geezer now that Bolden left?

You can’t have it both ways.

Besides, historically – but not hysterically -- Joe has been down this road before.

With apologies to Pennsylvanian John Updike, it’s simply “Lion Redux.”

SOMETIMES THEY GO

Quarterback Steve Joachim transferred from Penn State to Temple after lettering with the Lions in 1971. After sitting out a season, Joachim led the Owls to a 17-3 record in 1973 and 1974, including a 14-game winning streak. In 1974, he won the Maxwell Award as the nation’s top football player.

Paterno was 45 years old when Joachim left. Joe must have really screwed up.

Thing is, Penn State went 32-4 from 1972-74 – and 12-0 in 1973 -- with John Hufnagel, then Tom Shuman at quarterback. In there was a 24-game streak in which the Lions lost only once.

So who knows. Maybe Joachim would have meant another win. Maybe not.

Thing is, quarterback Jeff Hostetler played a couple of mop-up games as a true freshman in 1979, when a poor Penn State team went 8-4. The next season, Hostetler started the first three games – won two – but lost the starting job to a redshirt freshman, Todd Blackledge.

Hostetler transferred to West Virginia after the 1980 season and did all right for himself. He led the Mountaineers to three consecutive 9-3 seasons and he married the daughter of his coach, Don Nehlen. He played in the NFL and led the New York Giants to a Super Bowl victory.

Paterno was 54 years old when Hostetler left. Joe must have really screwed up.

Thing is, Blackledge led the Nittany Lions to eight wins in their final games of 1980, and a 10-2 record. Over the next two years, Blackledge quarterbacked Penn State to a national championship and finished with a starting record of 29-5.

So who knows. Maybe Hostetler would have meant another win. Maybe not.

A DEVLIN OF A DECISION

Quarterback Pat Devlin owned a passel of Pennsylvania high school passing records when he changed his mind, shunned Miami (Fla.) and came to Penn State. But once on campus, he lost a tight duel with Daryll Clark for the starting quarterback job.

So Devlin transferred to the University of Delaware after the 2008 regular season – flying the coup after the final regular season game and before the Rose Bowl. With Devlin at the helm, the Blue Hens were only 6-5 in 2009. But in 2010 they are 10-2 and playing in the FCS national championship game later this week.

Devlin is the only Division I-AA quarterback to be nominated for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. Bolden and McGloin, in case you hadn’t noticed, weren’t picked.

Paterno was 81 years when Devlin left. Joe must have really screwed up.

And in a limited sense, this time he did. But let’s be honest: There was no way he couldn’t keep from Devlin from transferring – short of yanking the starting job from Clark.

But why do that? Clark led the 2008 squad to an 11-1 mark at the time – before the Rose Bowl – when Devlin and his father told Paterno that Pat was boldening…er, bolting. I do think if Devlin had stayed and was the Lion starter in 2010, Penn State would have won two or three more games.

Thing is, when it comes to the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Joe’s decision was pretty sound. Clark led the Lions to a robust 22-4 record and a pair of No. 8 rankings.

Maybe with Devlin as the starter, or the backup to Clark with a bunch of PT, it would have meant another win those two seasons. (Folks will always say Devlin should have played in the 2008 Iowa game, adding that he led the Lions on a winning drive against Ohio State in that ’08 season).

Maybe not.

SOMETIMES THEY STAY

Again, it is a player’s right to leave, if he wants.

But some Penn State players have stayed under more trying conditions than Bolden’s, and things turned out OK for them.

John Cappelletti, stuck behind both Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell, spent not one but two seasons at defensive back. Turns out later that he would’ve had good reason to leave University Park in a huff, saying he wasn’t getting his chance.

But Cappelletti stayed. And won a Heisman. As a running back.

Michael Robinson came in as a quarterback in 2002, played a million and one positions – and occasionally was quarterback behind a guy, Zack Mills, who was playing with a broken wing. Had to be discouraging, especially when the Lions lost 20 games in his first three seasons.

But MRob stayed.

As the starting quarterback, was named the Big Ten’s top offensive player as a senior. And he came within two seconds of playing for the national title in 2005.

Larry Johnson was a do-everything back and outstanding return man his first two years at Penn State. But he was stuck behind Eric McCoo, who averaged an underwhelming 57.24 yards per game in those two campaigns. By his third year, in 2001, L.J. was pissed – OK, he was always pissed – as he led the Lions in rushing with 337 yards. For the season.

But L.J. stayed.

And as a senior in 2002 he rushed for a stunning 2,087 yards and 20 touchdowns. In one game that season, he ran for 327 yards – 10 fewer than he did in all of 2001.

AND THERE'S MORE...

Bobby Engram, caught stealing and suspended for a year, stayed. Clark, ordered to prep school, then suffering behind Anthony Morelli for two seasons with the rest of us, stayed. Mike McQueary, who had a monster year in his one season as a starter (2,211 yards, 17 TDs, a Citrus Bowl over Florida), stayed. And never left.

Some go, like Craig McCoy and John Sacca. Some stay, like little Rodney Kinlaw, who started only as a senior (1,329 yards rushing in 2007; whoda thunk it?).

Then, as now, Joe Paterno is part of the reason they leave. And stay.

It’s an age-old situation at Penn State.

But, in this case with Rob Bolden, I don’t think it’s an old-age one.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” 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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