Joe Paterno 1926-2012

Joe Paterno passed away this morning at the age of 85.  Say what you will about the scandal involving his former defensive coordinator Gerry Sandusky and how he was or wasn’t involved but one thing is for certain – on Saturdays, Paterno was one of the best, if not the best football coach that there ever was.

Joe Paterno 1926-2012

Paterno was born on December 21, 1926 in Brooklyn, NY.  He spent a year in the army out of high school and then went to Brown University to play football.  He graduated from Brown in the class of 1950 and promptly took a job as assistant coach for Penn State who had just hired his own college coach, Rip Engle.  After spending 16 years as assistant coach under Engle he was elevated to head coach of Penn State upon Engle’s retirement.  Paterno was the head coach of Penn State from then until November 8, 2011 when the Penn State board of trustees voted to relieve Paterno of his duties in light of the Sandusy abuse scandal.

The saddest thing about the scandal was that Paterno was the last of a generation.  He didn’t need to get kids tattoos and hummers and big wads of cash to recruit.  He was just Joe Pa.  He could walk into a prospect’s living room and that’s all he needed.  Coaches these days bolt for the NFL for big money and when they fail they take more big money from their old school’s biggest rival.  Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier and guys like that are great coaches but they’ll never be like a Joe Paterno or a Bobby Bowden.  Coaches these days chase the money and not the legacy.  Back in 1972 Paterno actually had an agreement with the New England Patriots to be their head football coach.  He backed out at the last minute, citing loyalty to Penn State.  That was the first and only flirtation with the NFL, 40 years ago.  Now all that’s left is guys like Pete Carroll and Jim Tressel who were jettisoned from the jobs because of NCAA violations.  And it was them and not other coaches because they were the ones that got caught.  The only thing close to a Paterno in college football now is Frank Beamer in Virginia Tech.  No disrespect to Beamer, he’s a great coach, but he’s no Bowden or Paterno.  That old school mentality in college football died when Paterno had to answer for his part in Sandusky’s scandal.

Joe Pa coached the Nittany Lions from 1965 to 2011

It was unfortunate how it ended and Paterno was rightfully punished for not blowing the whistle on the cover up.  But that doesn’t erase the legacy that came before that.  It’s not necessarily the man so much as the end of an era as I outlined above.  Watching ESPN this morning Mike Ditka talked about the time that Joe Paterno came to his house to recruit him to Penn State.  18-year old Mike Ditka at the kitchen table listening to Joe Pa.  Ditka won a Super Bowl as a head coach when I was 4 years old.  That’s how long he was around.

Paterno’s life seemed to end when he was displaced from Penn State.  He only lived 75 more days.  He wasn’t Bobby Bowden, who loves to talk and loves to be around people.  He didn’t have a post-career gig on ESPN like Bowden.  Even if he wanted to, it’s certainly wasn’t in the cards after how it ended for him in Penn State.  Lou Holtz said this morning that the day that Paterno was relieved of his duties after he did a segment on ESPN, he turned around to Mark May and said that he wouldn’t last 6 months.  He was right.  It’s not the first time.  Bear Bryant died just 28 days after coaching his last game.  Vince Lombardi died less than a year after he coached his NFL game.  Penn State was his life and when that was gone there was nothing left.

While I think Paterno should have been punished, and he was, I don’t think it should go any further than that.  He didn’t actually commit the crimes and he wasn’t part of the cover-up, he just didn’t follow up with the guys who were covering up as to why they didn’t act on the intel he gave them.  It wasn’t apparent in the midst of the scandal but becomes more apparent as his death brings closure – college football will never be the same again.  Paterno was the last of the old school coaches who came from a time where it was about legacy, not money.  That time is now gone.

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About evonsports
30 year old sports enthusiast and aspiring writer from Boston.

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