A new reason for uncertainty at Penn State
The future of Penn State football, a program that has thrived on stability and consistency, has never seemed so unclear.
The never-ending speculation about when Joe Paterno will retire has hovered over the program for years, but the Nittany Lions have remained strong.
Now charges of sexual abuse against a former assistant of Paterno's have threatened upheaval in the school's hierarchy and will lead to even more questions about how much longer JoePa will lead the Nittany Lions.
On Saturday, former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged with sexually assaulting eight boys over 15 years.
Late Sunday night, Athletic Director Tim Curley requested to be placed on administrative leave so he could devote the time needed to defend himself against perjury and other charges, university President Graham Spanier said. Gary Schultz, vice president for finance and business, will step down and go back into retirement, Spanier said.
Paterno, the winningest coach in Division I college football history with 409 victories, was not accused of any wrongdoing by prosecutors.
The 84-year-old Paterno is in the last year of his contract, which doesn't seem to matter much. He says he'll be happy to coach without one.
And Penn State is challenging for another Big Ten title. The Nittany Lions are 8-1, 5-0 in conference, even though Paterno has spent much of this season watching the team from a coaches' box on gameday as he recovers from hip and shoulder injuries sustained when a player ran into him at practice.
With so many longtime assistants on his staff, such as defensive coordinator Tom Bradley - the coach who was promoted to replace Sandusky and has been with Penn State for 33 years - the Nittany Lions operate just fine with Paterno laid up.
However, there are some Penn State fans and supporters who long for a coaching change. Some who believe that Penn State should regularly contend for national titles and that another coach could help the program realize that potential.
There was talk earlier this season that Penn State officials spoke to former Florida coach Urban Meyer when he was in town doing a game for ESPN about possibly replacing JoePa.
But at this point it seemed that everyone involved with Penn State had become resigned to the fact that Paterno would leave when he wanted. Paterno embodies the Penn State brand and in many ways that has become more important than his influence on game plans and who plays quarterback.
As much as Paterno's age might have been used against him on the recruiting trail in recent years by opponents trying to sell prospects that the Hall of Famer might not be around to see them graduate, continuity on his coaching staff helped thwart those tactics.
Though with every passing year it seemed less likely Paterno's replacement would come from within.
At one time Sandusky was considered first in line to replace Paterno. When Sandusky stepped down in 1999, the story was he got tired of waiting for Paterno to retire.
Now there could be sweeping changes at Penn State that go beyond the football team.
The charges against Sandusky dwarf the scandals that have rocked college sports in the last couple years. This is not about losing scholarships and postseason appearances. This is about people possibly going to jail.
If a new administration comes in, will Paterno want to stay? Will he be allowed to stay?
Whenever the Penn State job comes open, it has been assumed that quality candidates would be plentiful. Would that change now? Can the program remain one of the jewels of college football.
''I understand that people are upset and angry, but let's be fair and let the legal process unfold,'' Paterno said in a statement released Sunday. ''In the meantime I would ask all Penn Staters to continue to trust in what that name represents, continue to pursue their lives every day with high ideals and not let these events shake their beliefs nor who they are.''
We've spent years wondering when and how Paterno's career would end.
Could this be it?
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP