Bobby Bowden's bitterness is evident when he talks about getting ousted at Florida State, but so is his sincerity when he discusses his good friend, Joe Paterno, reaching the incredible milestone of 400 victories.
"I'm glad to see him get it," Bowden said Sunday night by phone from his home in Tallahassee. "He deserves it, and I want him to get it."
JoePa earned win No. 399 Saturday against Michigan and can reach 400 when Penn State hosts Northwestern at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
"I don't know of anybody that deserves it any more than he does," Bowden said. "He's done it the right way."
For years, Paterno and Bowden were part of a neck-and-neck race for the Division I wins record and to see who could get to 400 first. At the end of the 2007 season, Bowden had a slim lead of 373-372.
The Nittany Lions, however, surged the past two seasons with 11-2 records, giving JoePa 394. The Seminoles went 9-4 in 2008 and slumped to 7-6 last year, leaving Bowden five wins behind at 389.
"Penn State is Penn State. While he's there and you play against them, 20 years ago, to beat 'em, you had to do a certain thing. Now, 20 years later, you still have to do the same things because they're gonna play Penn State football. It hasn't changed since he's been there." -- Bobby Bowden, on Joe Paterno
"I never lost any sleep over it, and I never even thought about it until it started happening," Bowden said of the wins race. "When you get up into the 380s and stuff like that, then you get to realize that it is a possibility. But as far as losing sleep over it, right now I'm second, I won't lose a bit of sleep over that."
He probably does lose sleep over not getting a chance to reach 400 wins himself.
"That was one of my goals," Bowden said. "That's one reason I wanted to keep coaching because one of my goals was to try to get 400."
The NCAA and Florida State prevented that from happening.
The Seminoles were slapped with penalties for a widespread academic cheating scandal, and Bowden was stripped of 12 victories, reducing his total to 377. The school fired him following last season.
"I was wanting to [reach 400 wins], and one of the reasons was Joe and I had a good race going on," Bowden said. "They took games away from me, and that eliminated that race. But I was hoping, I was thinking, 'Boy, if I could just get to 400, it would just be me and him up there.' He'll have more, but I said at least I could be up in the 4s."
Once Paterno reaches 400 wins, the chances of anyone else ever doing it in major college football are remote.
"It will probably not be done again, not the way things are," Bowden said. "Coaches don't stay in it that long anymore, and that's why I was wanting to get up there."
Paterno rarely talks about the wins record, milestones or anything of that nature. Win No. 400 may or may not come this weekend, but when it does happen, no one expects JoePa to spend much time discussing it.
Paterno prefers talking about his team and its accomplishments, so he will take a few questions, then tell all the reporters to stop talking about him and to focus on the players.
But as Bowden pointed out, there's nothing wrong with celebrating 400 wins.
"It's a good goal because your goal is to win, so it's not like it's a personal thing that it's taking away from the team," he said. "If you can win, that's what you're trying to do in the first place."
Had Penn State been successful in forcing Paterno out following the 2004 season, Bowden would have the victory record and Paterno would be second.
But JoePa won out then, which enabled him to win out overall.
"I know Joe had a rough time [a few] years ago, went through what I did, and his folks let him come back," Bowden said. "That's what I was trying to do. But he deserves everything he can get."
Paterno is still coaching at 83 years of age, and with his health improved after a summer illness, right now there's no reason to believe he won't be back for at least one more season.
"The one thing you find out as you're growing older is that if you've got good health, [age] doesn't make a difference," Bowden said. "As long as Joe's health is good, his mind is as sharp as anybody I've seen."
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or email@example.com.