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Paterno, Tressel searching for answers

In Columbus, Ohio, a calm and reasoned Jim Tressel works in an office with no windows to the outside world's harsh criticism.

In University Park, Penn., a steamed and frustrated Joe Paterno wonders why Penn State fans aren't as angry as he is.

It might not seem that Tressel and Paterno have much in common. But they do.

Neither coach has won a Big Ten game this year.

Ask Tressel about how the Ohio State fans are handling the team's first 0-3 Big Ten start in 16 years, and the coach replies: "Gosh, interestingly enough, us coaches are not around the fans too much. We're nestled in our offices watching film and on our practice field. We're kind of in a cocoon. I'm sure as that passionate as our people are about winning, and how excited they get about that, they do the same when it doesn't go that well, and we understand that."

Ask Paterno about Penn State's equally miserable fortunes, and the coach will tell you what happened when he walked home from the Beaver Stadium after the Nittany Lions' most recent loss, a 20-13 stinker to Purdue.

Some Penn State fans tried to encourage Paterno by telling him: "Hey, Coach. Great game! Getting better!"

Paterno would have none of it.

"When you get to the point when you lose and people say it's a good game, that's not Penn State," he said. "I'm not happy with that."

No one is happy about what has transpired at Penn State, where the Nittany Lions have gone from a national power to a conference charity case. They're 1-10 in the Big Ten since the beginning of last season, and they haven't won a road game since 2002.

This is Penn State, right?

Many writers and fans still want Paterno to retire, but their calls seem somewhat muted. Perhaps that's because the 77-year-old Paterno signed a four-year contract extension in May that would take him through the 2008-09 season.

Few believe he will coach that long. But he's almost certain to stick around for next season, when the Nittany Lions' schedule is the closest thing a Big Ten team can have to a cakewalk.

Penn State plays seven home games, including dates with South Florida, Cincinnati and Central Michigan. Its conference road opponents are Northwestern, Michigan, Illinois and Michigan State.

Paterno may be frustrated, but he insists he hasn't reached his breaking point and joked that it might not come until 2030.

"Believe me, I've got too many guys fighting their guts out," he said. "If anything, I'm further away from it than I've ever been."

Tressel might not be able to choose his exit strategy if his 0-3 conference start is a sign of things to come. There's simply no tolerance for mediocrity at Ohio State, where Tressel won a national championship in 2002.

"You really want to know what's wrong with them?" ESPN analyst Mark May said on the air Saturday. "All those players that John Cooper recruited are gone. You look at Jim Tressel. This is his fourth year there and 99 percent of those players are players he recruited, players he wanted for his system. He's not developing the players he recruited, that's the bottom line."

Tressel lost a ton of talent from last year's 11-2 team. NFL teams drafted 14 Buckeyes, including seven in the first day. Both were single-school records since the league went to a seven-round draft.

So should anyone be surprised that Ohio State ranks 104th in the nation in rushing, at 97.7 yards per game? Or that quarterback Justin Zwick has completed less than half his passes in four consecutive games? Or that the Buckeyes surrendered 33 points to Northwestern and 33 more to Iowa?

Well, yeah, the Buckeyes are surprised.

"No one ever sees this happening," tight end Ryan Hamby said. "I think I can speak for the (players). Everyone would say this is unacceptable."

The media certainly isn't giving Ohio State a free pass.

Under a Cleveland Plain Dealer headline that read: "Buckeyes can kick themselves, but they can't do much else," columnist Bud Shaw described Ohio State as "one big punt team that dabbles in the run and pass, though not quite often enough to be labeled a hobby."

Like Paterno, Tressel is frustrated by his and his team's poor showing. But he's not about to lose his composure.

"We feel bad because we think it's our responsibility to prepare our guys so we can be the best we're capable of being," he said. "We think we're better than what we're demonstrating, so, yeah, it's a very personal negative feeling when you don't think you're doing as well for your team and individual kids."

Teddy Greenstein covers the Big Ten for the Chicago Tribune.