Let me take you back a short time, when life was easy for the face of college football. A simple, untouchable time.
After the 2004 season, Penn State president Graham Spanier arrived at Joe Paterno's house and asked the coach, 78 at the time, to retire gracefully, and yes, immediately.
Joe said no.
Now here we are in the waning months of winter; 29 wins, a Big Ten championship and three bowl victories later, JoePa is fighting for his job again.
"It's a different world this time," says one prominent Penn State booster. "Everyone associated with the process knows that, including Joe."
Like it or not, the tenuous coaching business is more about what could be than what is. And if that future is uncertain and trending toward a blip of a dip, alarms go off, rumors float and the dreaded vote of confidence is soon to follow.
Used to be that JoePa was immune to this nonsense, a half-century investment in Penn State shielding him from the bickering and infighting of big-money boosters and heavy-handed administrators itching to make their mark on the program.
But at some point this spring -- and maybe as soon as in a few weeks -- Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley will meet with Paterno for the annual review of the program. It is widely believed that Spanier will then detail his vision for the future of Penn State football -- and Paterno's place in it.
Spanier hasn't publicly commented about the process -- why would he at this point? -- but all signs point toward a defining offseason in Happy Valley.
Essentially, there are two options: 2008 will be Paterno's last season, or Paterno will fight -- as he did in 2004 -- to keep his job. And if he fights by engaging big-money boosters, he will all but eliminate the possibility of one of his current staffers (read: defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, a Nittany Lions aide for three decades) succeeding him.
It's a sad, almost too cruel, slap of reality: If Paterno wants to repay Bradley's loyalty, he has to give up the program he built -- a program that has averaged nearly 10 wins since the last ultimatum from Spanier. Only this time around, the dynamics have changed dramatically.
Paterno privately told recruits he would be at the school for at least three more years before his handpicked successor took over. If only it were that simple.
JoePa no longer is untouchable. The end is unavoidable for the octogenarian -- and, yes, finally inevitable.
The Fighting Irish have a promising future based on coaching, current talent, recruiting, title path, and program power.
CFT: Johnny Manziel nearly transferred out of Texas A&M before the 2012 season after being suspended, according to reports, but he stayed after his successful appeal.
Video: Football from NBC Sports
The Hype: How early is too early for sports scholarships?
There's a disturbing trend afoot in college football -- the offering of scholarships to middle school students. Despite never playing a down of high school football, Lindell Stone, an eighth-grader who already has an offer from UCLA, is the latest hot commodity. Michelle Beadle and Carolyn Manno discuss the absurdity of this trend and consider the possibility of scholarships for embryos
BCS title game
Pregame color, key plays and other moments from 'Bama's blowout win.
Check out the action from the postseason.
Check out which players were best of the best at each position.
Check out some of the college football cheerleaders from across the country.