STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) - Separated by 800 miles and styles that are about as far apart, Florida State's Bobby Bowden and Penn State's Joe Paterno are stuck together by winning and retirement rumors.
Both are Hall of Fame coaches. Bowden has won 373 games; Paterno 372. They are Nos. 1 and 2 on the all-time list of the winningest major college coaches.
The virtual deadlock has gone on for years, and - on the face of it - 2008 should be no different. Neither coach has signaled that this season will be his last on the sideline.
But here's where it gets interesting. Florida State has a succession in place for whenever the 78-year-old Bowden does retire. The 81-year-old Paterno is in the last year of his contract, and talks between the coach and university about his future are on hold until after the season ends.
``A lot of schools, I don't know how many, have done the same thing since we did,'' Bowden said recently in referring to the plan that Florida State put in place last December, naming offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher as coach-in-waiting.
Paterno, meanwhile, has told recruits and the media for years that he hopes his successor comes from his current staff - just like when a then-assistant Paterno took over in 1966 from mentor Rip Engle.
But there's been no decision with administrators on a succession plan, let alone how much longer Paterno will coach.
The most recent round of talks between Paterno and university president Graham Spanier hit an impasse in April, and both sides said the issue wouldn't be addressed again until after the 2008 campaign. Both sides said JoePa doesn't need something in writing to keep coaching.
``Everyone's got to do what's best for their situation,'' Penn State athletic director Tim Curley said in a recent interview with The Associated Press, when asked about the impact Bowden's succession plan had on his school's deliberations.
``I have great respect for other ways of doing things, and people understand we do certain things our way,'' Curley said. ``But every situation is different ... You try to make sure you have all the facts and make sure you made the best decision you possibly can.''
And so, college football fanatics around the country are left wondering again: Is this the last year on the sideline for the sport's elder statesmen?
Bowden appears to be under greater pressure to produce heading into 33rd year leading the Seminoles.
Consecutive 7-6 seasons have roiled some fans. Bowden has lamented about a lack of gamebreakers on his team along the lines of Seminole greats like Warrick Dunn and Derrick Brooks.
And several starters are scheduled to miss the first two or three games of the 2008 season as part of the lingering fallout from an academic cheating scandal that came to light late last year.
Fisher in early December was named successor to Bowden, who is on a one-year rollover agreement that includes options for a maximum of three years.
``When they presented it to me, the more I thought about it, the more I thought it was a good idea to name a successor,'' Bowden said.
Ever the optimist, Bowden believes the plan has helped on the recruiting trail. He recounted a typical conversation with a recruit.
``'You boys we're trying to recruit, I probably won't be here the whole five years, or four years you're here. But here's the guy that's taking my place and it's worked good.' It's worked real good in recruiting,'' Bowden said.
Bowden would need to average nine wins a year over the next three seasons to reach his 400-victory goal. He doesn't want to leave after consecutive seven-win years, though he has conceded a losing season may likely end his tenure.
No such talk from Paterno.
He keeps talking about pacing the sidelines in his rolled-up khakis for at least another couple seasons, and possibly as many as five more.
``I obviously get tired of answering the same question. 'When are you going to retire?,' when I don't know and I don't know what to say so many times,'' Paterno said at Big Ten media day in Chicago. ``I'd like to retire when I feel as if I cannot make a contribution to Penn State.''
But JoePa has had his own off-field worries in recent years.
While he appears as feisty as ever, even the most minor hiccup in his health makes news. There was a brief stir in Happy Valley when he was treated at a hospital in May for several hours for dehydration. Paterno returned to his normal schedule the next day.
Off-field trouble has nagged his team since April 2007, with a handful of player suspensions and dismissals. Paterno dismisses talk that he's lost touch with players young enough to be his grandchildren.
``All of us are under the gun,'' he said at Penn State media day when asked about cracking down on off-field trouble. ``I think I'm under the gun. We've got to stay on top of things.''
The Nittany Lions can still point to having one of the best graduation rates among Football Bowl Subdivision schools, 83 percent in 2006. But Penn State lost out this past offseason on in-state super-recruit Terrelle Pryor to Ohio State. Paterno insists his undefined future hasn't hurt the school in recruiting.
Whatever happens this season, Seminole and Nittany Lion fans might want to take a moment some Saturday and just enjoy the sight of their legendary coach on the sideline. These guys can't do it forever.
AP Writer Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.

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