Legendary Penn State Football Coach Joe Paterno died this morning of complications of Lung Cancer in State College Pennsylvania.
He was college football’s winningest coach and led his teams to 409 wins. In 46 years at Penn State he built a football program that won two National Championships and came close on a number of other occasions. The program was built around the concept of winning with honor. Paterno said “Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won’t taste good”
For years it seemed that Penn State football was just that, a program that stood out among elite teams because of the lack of scandal. But that was before the revelations about former Penn State Assistant Coach and Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys and the cover up of the scandal by the school. When the news of Sandusky’s arrest upon the release of the Grand Jury report it sent the university and much of the nation into shock and brought forth anger, much directed at Paterno for his apparent inaction when he learned of an 2002 incident in the locker room showers from Mike McQueary then a graduate assistant. The fact that allegations had been made and reported to the police in 1998 and went back to 1994 did not help.
Paterno refused to resign and the University trustees fired him along with the President of the University Graham Spanier. The firing was done late at night and with a phone call, it should have been done in person but the university which refused to do anything to stop Sandusky was willing to unceremoniously dump Paterno.
From Paterno’s statements it seems that he really had no understanding of the gravity or the significance of the allegations. He said after the allegations came to light that “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.” He told the Washington Post in an interview just 9 days before his death that although Mike McQueary was not specific that had he been specific that “to be frank with you I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it.”
In the end maybe he was simply out of touch with the real world. Insulated in State College and consumed with football, it was his life. He said in 2004 “There isn’t anything in my life anymore except my family and my football. I think about it all the time.”
He will be remembered as one of the great, of not the greatest coach in the history of college football. However that accomplishment in now obscured by the allegations against Jerry Sandusky and his inaction during the time. We probably will not know all that he knew or did not know about the incidents involving Sandusky. On the surface one can imagine that he knew more than has been admitted and I believe that is probably the case. At the same time he may have just been a man out of time who should have retired years ago.
Despite this he will be remembered fondly and with great respect by many of his players as well as the Penn State community. I would imagine that he died as much from a broken heart and spirit as he did lung cancer. The fact that he was fired, shunned and blamed for the debacle that has destroyed program that was his life’s work had to be a part of his decline. I imagine that the disgrace that he felt was more than he could bear.
Rest in peace JoePa, rest in peace.