Penn State tried to get rid of Joe Paterno five years ago, and now the school needs him to stick around as long as possible.
Happy 83rd birthday today, JoePa. Your present this year is more power and leverage than perhaps you've ever had in more than six decades at Penn State.
What Paterno has done in the past five seasons is nothing short of remarkable. He resurrected his program in the face of immense scrutiny and has led the Nittany Lions to 50 wins and two Big Ten titles.
But that's not the primary reason the school badly needs him to remain as head coach.
Paterno is, always has been and always will be a cash cow for PSU. And now the university needs that aspect more than ever.
Penn State will be jacking up season-ticket prices in 2011, raising annual Nittany Lion Club contribution levels from $100 per seat to $600 and $400 apiece for thousands of fans.
It will be a lot easier for many longtime, diehard Lion fans to fork over the extra money simply as a show of support, loyalty and admiration for Paterno.
Lots of fans may be furious about the huge increases, but they also should be thankful the school didn't do this a long time ago.
Like it could and should have. And like almost all other Big Ten schools did.
Penn State actually dropped the ball big time by keeping prices so cheap for so long. Now the school claims it's in a financial bind and needs to raise revenue to continue paying for its 29 varsity sports.
Fans can believe one of two things: That either the school is telling the truth, or that it's being greedy.
Whatever the case, Penn State wants to raise a lot of money, and the administration knows the best way to do that is by having Joe Paterno around.
It's been an amazing turn of events, since just five short years ago it seemed like very few people wanted JoePa around any longer.
The infamous meeting took place at Paterno's house on Nov. 21, 2004, the day after the Lions wrapped up a 4-7 season. University president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and two other officials reportedly asked Paterno to retire, but he would have none of it.
The coach knew he could get the program back on track, and he's done just that.
"It's gratifying to me, yeah," Paterno said of the turnaround.
He not only won back the administration and fans, he solidified his reputation as a master fundraiser. It's impossible to know exactly how much he has raised for the university during his career - estimates have topped $100 million - but in 2007 alone the school received a $5 million endowment from a Florida couple on Paterno's behalf.
Just what does Paterno mean to the school? Even one of his right-hand men can't pinpoint it.
"It's something we don't know actually just how big it is," said Guido D'Elia, who's in charge of football marketing for Penn State. "We won't know how big it is until it goes away."
The school doesn't want to see that happen anytime soon.
"It's something that I don't think anybody's prepared for adequately," D'Elia said. "I'm not sure that we are either. You've just got to be able to plug through when it happens.
"The alumni are drawn to him, the fan base is drawn to him," D'Elia added. "You just don't know to what degree, and you won't find out to what degree until the change is made."
Paterno may not do as much from a coaching standpoint as he once did and wisely learned the importance of delegation, but he's still very much in charge of his team. Just ask any player.
"He's not a guy to sit in the tower and just scout the entire practice," quarterback Daryll Clark said. "If there is something he doesn't like, he's down there in the thick of things. He'll stop it, he'll correct it. He's put a lot of responsibilities in our other coaches, but at the same time, he makes all the final decisions."
He also does his best to relate to athletes who are more than 60 years younger than him.
"He laughs, he jokes with us, he makes sure we understand when it's time to be serious," Clark said.
The passion Paterno still shows, after all these years, is evident and respected by the players.
"For him to be as passionate as he is now, at his age, and to still be coaching with as much integrity as he has, I don't think there will be anyone ever like him again in college football," linebacker Sean Lee said.
Paterno has regained his success the past five years, but it wasn't easy. He suffered a broken leg on the sideline at Wisconsin in 2006, and last year he coached through intense pain before having a hip replaced at the end of the regular season.
"For a guy who is soon to be 83 years old - someone who in the last few years has gone through two major surgeries and has come back better than I have from my surgeries - you have to respect [it]," Lee said.
And the longevity?
"He's been a head coach and been at Penn State from before my parents were born, which is just crazy to me and an unbelievable accomplishment," Lee said.
Paterno would not have gotten to this point without remarkable resiliency. He survived the program's dark years and the calls for his dismissal earlier this decade, but even during the lean times he stuck to his core principles and continued to build a foundation that eventually paid off.
"What was most valuable from him then was he just stayed the course," D'Elia said. "He never lost his confidence, even when it was the darkest moments - three-win season, four-win season and losing the way we did to who we lost and how we lost and how we were playing.
"He somehow saw enough strength to just keep all of us and everything around him focused on the positive and persevere. Don't panic and don't overcorrect. Don't undo what's working. Stay the course."
Paterno has been on that course for 44 years as Penn State's head coach. He often jokes about sticking around another 10 years, then he laughs.
The fact that the university would now love if he could last another 10 years means Paterno did indeed get the last laugh.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.