OKLAHOMA CITY, January 22, 2012—Head coach of the Penn State University football program for forty-six years, Joe Paterno, better known as JoePa, died on Sunday.
Paterno taught leagues of young people, football colleagues and fans, numerous lessons in fighting clean, fighting hard, and winning graciously before being fired amid a child sex abuse scandal at the university. Joe Paterno’s only error is that he chose to do the minimum when confronted with accusations about Jerry Sandusky sexually abusing minors in the Penn State locker room.
It was a major error on his part and he was harshly punished for it. Too harshly, some say.
But for a minute, let’s reflect on everything that Paterno accomplished as a coach.
The most all-time wins in Division I with 409 and two national championships.
There are several football programs that have been college football royalty over decades with different men at the helm. Oklahoma, Alabama, USC, Ohio State but Penn State is Joe Paterno.
The Nittany Lions weren’t anywhere close to being a power until Paterno became coach keeping Penn State competitive for over four decades. When he was fired many wondered who would take over. Who would continue this legacy? The answer is no one. No one will ever coach a university, let alone Penn State, for over 60 years.
No one will ever win in one place that much for that long.
There had been whispers of Paterno being pushed out for years. Anytime someone would ask him if he would come back next season he always scoffed as if he were being asked if he planned on having dinner that night.
Maybe he knew. Maybe he knew that coaching was his life and if he didn’t have that he couldn’t live. We recall Paul “Bear” Bryant passing away within a month of leaving Alabama.
Some people are just born to do certain things. For a man that prided himself on running a clean university, the incongruity of his departure from Penn State, and this dear earth, amid the worst scandal in the history of college sports is not lost.
Paterno’s legacy is not, for now, a legacy of football. Any mention of JoePa, any obituary written begins and ends with the scandal that left him shunned by the University he loved. He has admitted that he didn’t know how to handle what were then accusations against then assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky. He thought he did enough, brought it to the right people. He admitted in a last interview that he should have done more, and that may be his legacy, the one last lesson he taught us.
We must always have the courage to do more.
Paterno was 85 years old when he died. Some say that his age had something to do with the way he handled the situation. But at his age, if he can be a head coach then he can make rational decisions about a man taking advantage of young boys.
In time Jerry Sandusky will be revealed as the worst form of monster or the victim of false accusations. And in time, JoePa’s legacy will return to all the good that he did, all the games that he won, though we should never remember the mistake he made. We must always remember the last lesson he taught us.
Paterno was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after being let go at Penn State and had been in the hospital since mid January.
Also read:Joe Paterno, legendary Penn State football coach, dies “Its the name on the front of the jersey that matters most, not the one on the back.”
Joe Paterno, Newt Gingrich and the mainstream media Penn State may survive its scandal by taking a page from the playbook of Coach Gingrich.
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