When loyalties are tested, integrity is questioned and often forgotten. This was most certainly the case with former Penn State University head football coach, Joe Paterno. People will remember him one of two ways. They can remember him for his brilliant football mind and countless contributions to Penn State. They can also remember him for the things he didn’t necessarily do. It has been a year since he passed away and a lot of people will be remembering him in one way or another.
At one point in time not too long ago, Paterno was the all time winningest coach in NCAA Division I college football history. That obviously took a turn for the worse, but that will be discussed later in this post.
He took over the head coaching duties at Penn State from his college football coach at Brown University, Rip Engle, in 1966. It didn’t take long for Paterno to have success. In 1968 and 1969, Paterno led Penn State to consecutive unbeaten seasons. They did not win the national championship in either of those years, but won the Orange Bowl both years. This was just the start of Joe Pa’s success.
It didn’t take long for Paterno to coach Penn State to another undefeated season. This time it came in 1973. Penn State, yet again, did not win the National Championship, despite finishing 12-0. Another positive that came from that season was star player John Cappelletti won the Heisman Trophy.
Ten years after taking over at Penn State, Paterno won his 100th career game as a head coach in a 41-20 victory over North Carolina State.
Penn State had a chance to win the national championship in 1978 after finishing the regular season 11-0. However, Paterno and company could not get it done as they fell to the Alabama Crimson Tide 14-7 in the national title game.
Paterno won two national championships while at Penn State. The first came in 1982 when the team finished 11-1 and defeated the University of Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, 27-23. Four years later, Paterno won his second national championship with Penn State in a 14-10 win over the University of Miami.
Before a lot of his wins were taken away from him, Paterno racked up 409 career wins. He posted a record of 409-136-3 over his 60-plus year coaching career. He holds the record for most bowl appearances with 37. He holds the record of most bowl wins with 18 (it was previously 24, but six wins were vacated.) Penn State won at least three bowl games in each decade Paterno served as head coach.
He was known for his game-day attire of thick black glasses, with his pants rolled up and some sort of Penn State top.
Paterno not only cared about wins and losses, but how his players handled themselves off the field, especially in the classroom. In 2011, Penn State had an 80 percent graduation rate of its football players and was ranked No.1 in the Academic Bowl Championship Series.
Joe Pa and his wife, Sue, have contributed over $4 million to the university over the years, including money towards the Penn State All-Sports Museum and the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center. The Paternos also helped raise over $13.5 million in funds for the expansion of the Pattee Library (the university library). Penn State named the extension Paterno Library in the honor of Joe and Sue.
Nobody can deny that the man could coach football and contributed greatly to the university and to the community, but sadly, he won’t be remembered for just those things.
November 9, 2011 will be a day that lives in infamy for Penn State University.
On this day, Paterno would announce that he would be retiring at the end of the season. This came a little over a week after he passed Grambling State head coach, Eddie Robinson, as the winningest coach in NCAA Division I history, after Penn State defeated the University of Illinois 10-7.
That celebration would be short lived. Later in the evening that Paterno announced his retirement, he was fired by the Penn State Board of Trustees for his involvement in the child sex abuse case that would change Penn State forever.
Paterno’s long time assistant coach and defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, was arrested four days prior on 40 counts of child sexual abuse which stemmed from 1994 to 2009.
This had a lot to do with Paterno because it was discovered that he knew of such acts going on back in 2001. Former Penn State quarterback and then graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, witnessed Sandusky abusing a young boy in the Penn State football shower facilities. McQueary informed Paterno, but after that, nothing happened and more children were abused.
Paterno was criticized for not informing authorities about what he was informed of. He did inform Penn State athletic director Tim Curley about what he was informed of, but it was later discovered that after that, Paterno pleaded with university officials to not report Sandusky to authorities because he didn’t want the football program or the school to receive a bad image.
Most people who are fans of Paterno and Penn State thought he did all he could do by reporting the incident to authorities. In reality, anyone with information of sexual abuse has a moral responsibility to report it to the authorities. Paterno failed to do that and even pleaded with Penn State officials to sweep it under the rug for the sake of the image that would come after.
Along with not reporting it to higher authorities, Paterno allowed Sandusky to have his own office on the Penn State campus, something that caused even more young children to be abused. The fact that Paterno could plead with university officials to not report this horrendous incident to authorities because he didn’t want his football program to receive an bad image in disgusting.
The incident resulted in the Joe Paterno statue-that sat outside of Beaver Stadium-to be torn down and removed, something that a lot of Penn State fans were outraged by.
As if things couldn’t get any worse for Paterno, his family announced later in the month that the legendary football coach was suffering from lung cancer.
He passed away on January 22, 2012 from the lung cancer. A lot of people, myself included, think he really passed away from a broken heart after everything that took place.
On July 23, 2012, the NCAA vacated all of Penn State’s wins from 1998 to 2011. Paterno would have 111 wins vacated, dropping him to 12th on the all time wins list.
I was one to criticize Paterno for not doing more. I did this because I thought someone with the status of such an iconic figure would do more, but instead, he was more worried about his football program’s image. He was a God-like figure in Happy Valley and someone like that should know to do the right thing in every situation, especially one as heinous as the one that occurred.
Despite my bashing of him, I will choose not to remember him in the negative light. When I hear the name Joe Paterno, I will forever think Penn State football. Up until the arrest of Sandusky, he was arguably the most known and iconic college football coach of all time.
How will you remember Joe Paterno?
Photo Credits: Associated Press