It seems absurd that a man could spend 55 years at a university, 39 as a head coach, become synonymous with the place -- and have his employment status questioned. Yet that's what's happening to Joe Paterno of Penn State. The numbers always used to stack up in his favor: 31 bowl appearances with 20 of them victories, 341 wins, 69 all-Americans.

But the numbers now outline Penn State's slide to mediocrity just as starkly: Paterno is 24-31 since 2000, with five wins in the last 21 games. He has one Big Ten victory in his last 13 conference games, four losing seasons in the last five and just two wins this season -- against Akron (4-4) and Central Florida (0-8). During the current five-game losing streak, the Nittany Lions have scored just three touchdowns.

So it is easy to make jokes about Unhappy Valley, but this is now a major problem. Paterno, 78, wants to depart from a successful program. To that end, the school gave him a four-year contract extension so he could reassure recruits, "I'll be here." But the chances that he will leave a rebuilding project for his successor, whoever that may be, are becoming increasingly likely.

Paterno was asked this week if he thought he deserved to return next season.

"I don't appreciate that question, to be honest," he said.

It's not going away.

-- Barry Svrluga