New York They are both chasing the Bear. Joe Paterno is one win away, while Bobby Bowden is five from equaling Bear Bryant's major college record of 323 victories.
Paterno should own the record by now, but his Nittany Lions have won just six of their last 19 games, including an 0-3 start this season. A loss to No. 15 Michigan today turns this into the worst start in the school's 115-year football history.
Yes, the 74-year-old Paterno is probably going to retire within the next few years with more wins than Bryant, but it would be nice for one of college football's greatest coaches to go out a winner. And on his own terms. The question these days, though, is whether that's possible.
Bowden, in town this week to promote his new book, "The Bowden Way," says no one should be too quick to count out JoePa.
"I know Joe and I know how competitive he is," the 71-year-old Florida State coach said. "He's like me. He doesn't like to lose. I don't think he'll go anywhere without a fight. I am confident he will find a way to come out of this."
Paterno has done it before. In 1983, Penn State started 0-3 and finished 8-4-1.
Bowden says whatever happens with Penn State this season, Paterno should be allowed to decide his own coaching future.
"I would want Joe to make the call, 'Hey, I've had enough and want out' or 'I'm gonna overcome this thing,"' Bowden said. "I just hope Joe gets to do what he feels is best."
What that is, Paterno isn't saying.
"I know fans are squirming around and the whole bit, and everyone else is, and they should be," Paterno said after his team's 24-18 loss at Iowa last week. "My end of it is to worry if the football team needs to work harder and get better and I think we're better after we walked off the field against Iowa."
Bowden added that Paterno "has been too good for the university and that he's had too many good years" for his future to be determined by others.
"If justice worked out," Bowden said, "Joe would have had about six national championships. He had all those undefeated years where he wasn't given the title."
Penn State, with five perfect seasons in Paterno's 35 years as coach, won national titles in 1982 and 1986.
Asked if he thought he might get to Bryant's record before Paterno, Bowden hesitated, then said, "It's like throwing a no-hitter. You just don't want to mention it. I'd rather not say anything."