Bears

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.

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Former first-round pick Kevin White hasn't caught a break -- or a touchdown -- through the first three years of his career. He has more season-ending injuries than 100-yard games and after an offseason focused on upgrades at wide receiver, White's future in Chicago beyond 2018 is very much in doubt.

Ryan Pace declined the fifth-year option in White's rookie contract, making this a prove-it year for the pass-catcher who once resembled a blend of Larry Fitzgerald and Dez Bryant during his time at West Virginia.

He's getting a fresh start by new coach Matt Nagy.

"He is healthy and he's really doing well," Nagy told Danny Kanell and Steve Torre Friday on SiriusXM's Dog Days Sports. "We're trying to keep him at one position right now so he can focus in on that."

White can't take all the blame for his 21 catches, 193 yards and zero scores through 48 possible games. He's only suited up for five. Whether it's bad luck or bad bone density, White hasn't had a legitimate chance to prove, on the field, that he belongs.

Nagy's looking forward, not backward, when it comes to 2015's seventh pick overall.

"That's gone, that's in the past," Nagy said of White's first three years. "This kid has a new future with us."

White won't be handed a job, however.

"He's gotta work for it, he's gotta put in the time and effort to do it," Nagy said. "But he will do that, he's been doing it. He's a great weapon, he's worked really hard. He has great size, good speed. We just want him to play football and not worry about anything else."

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

The Bears concluded their second round of OTAs on Thursday with the third and final set of voluntary sessions scheduled for May 29-June 1. Coach Matt Nagy is bringing a new and complicated system to Chicago, so the time spent on the practice field with the offense and quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been invaluable.

"We’ve thrown a lot at Mitch in the last 2 ½ months,” Nagy told Dog Days Sports’ Danny Kanell and Steve Torre on Friday. “He’s digested it really well.”

Nagy’s implementing the same system he operated with the Chiefs, an offense that brought the best out of Redskins quarterback Alex Smith. The former first-overall pick went from potential draft bust to MVP candidate under Andy Reid and Nagy’s watch.

Nagy admitted he and his staff may have been a little too aggressive with the amount of information thrust upon Trubisky so far.  It took five years to master the offense in Kansas City, he said, but the first-year head coach sees a lot of similarities between his current and past quarterbacks.

"These guys are just wired differently,” Nagy said when comparing Trubisky to Smith. “With Mitch, the one thing that you notice each and every day is this kid is so hungry. He wants to be the best. And he’s going to do whatever he needs to do. He’s so focused.”

Smith had the best year of his career in 2017 and much of the credit belongs to Nagy, who served as Smith’s position coach in each season of his tenure in Kansas City. He threw for eight touchdowns and only two interceptions during the five regular season games that Nagy took over play-calling duties last year.

Nagy said Trubisky has a similar attention to detail that Smith brought to the Chiefs’ quarterback room.

"Each and every detail that we give him means something. It’s not just something he writes down in a book. He wants to know the why,” Nagy said of Trubisky. “He’s a good person that is in this for the right reason. His teammates absolutely love him. It was the same thing with Alex [Smith] in Kansas City.”

A locker room that believes in its quarterback is a critically important variable for success, one that Nagy already sees exists in Chicago.

"When you have that as a coach and when you have that as being a quarterback, not everybody has that, and when you have that you’re in a good spot.”