John Wooden balanced coaching with philosophy about as well as anyone. That's why more than three and a half decades after he coached his last game after turning the UCLA men's basketball program into a dynasty, his words remain as relevant as ever.
We've all heard and used Wooden's quotes over the course of our lives, even if we didn't know they originated with the Wizard of Westwood. Last winter, when G.W. Boon was in the midst of a strong run in the starting lineup for the Bucknell men's basketball team, he moved back to the bench when Joe Willman returned from injury. A senior captain, Boon had to wonder why, then Bison coach Dave Paulsen dropped a little Wooden on him: "It's not so important who starts the game, but who finishes it."
I had never heard anyone say that before Paulsen told me, so I Googled it and right there it was under Wooden's bio, his version of a more coherent Yogism.
When you think about that, it makes a lot of sense. Sure, maybe it's a way to talk a kid off the ledge who's bumming about not starting, but when I was a player and the game was in the balance, I'd much rather be in the game in the last five minutes than the first five. There is an aura that goes with being the starter, but there is something to being the guy in the clutch, too.
That brings us to Penn State and the revolving door at quarterback. Just a few weeks ago in this very space I spelled out why Rob Bolden should be the guy for the Nittany Lions, from start to finish. It wasn't as much for what Bolden had done, it was because of what he didn't do, which was make the crucial mistake at the crucial time.
Now, after watching both Bolden and Matt McGloin play more, I'm not quite so sure. There is no question the offense moves better with McGloin than it does with Bolden. McGloin has better numbers, too. I still can't get past the things McGloin does -- you did see that interception he threw on Saturday, right? -- but I can see things work better with him. I get that.
In that same time I haven't seen any progress from Bolden. Even though he led Penn State to a field goal on the opening drive Saturday, it was as shaky as he has looked all year.
It's not all his fault, mind you, because both he and McGloin are losing out of valuable practice reps at this point. When you have one starting quarterback, that guy gets nearly all the reps with the first-team during practice leading up to game day. Say the starter gets 85 percent, and then the No. 2 gets the other 15. My guess is at Penn State it's probably 50-50, or 45-45 with the final 10 percent going to the other back-ups.
What that means, though, is that Bolden and McGloin are losing out on a ton of reps with the first team, which in the long run hurts both quarterbacks, the offense, and the team as a whole.
Right now, though, the Nittany Lions are 5-1. They have found ways to win games in spite of an offense that has been offensive at times. While everyone wants Penn State to pick a quarterback and stick with them, with McGloin, as much as it pains me to say it, they seem to have found someone who can at least finish.
Let Rob Bolden be the first guy off the bus and if he's moving them up and down the field, leave him in there. But if he struggles, and McGloin comes in and makes things happen, let him finish. It doesn't matter who starts, it matters who finishes.
n Sports editor Bill Bowman covers college sports for The Daily Item. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.