On January 22, 2012, the coaching fraternity, of which I have been a part of for 21 years, lost a legend. Until about 12 weeks ago, there would have been no debate about the positive impact Joe Paterno had not only on Penn State and college football, but on coaches and athletes everywhere. He was one of those iconic people that love or hate Penn State, many people respected the man. He had built a legacy over an incredible 62 year reign as first an assistant then head coach at Penn State that went far beyond his record 409 wins.
However, in recent weeks, Paterno’s legacy has come into question. He was fired in November after accusations that a former assistant coach of his had repeatedly been involved in atrocious sexual behavior with minors. Unfortunately for Paterno, his name was dragged through the mud by so many people in the country for allegedly not doing enough once he was informed of what had happened. I am not here to argue the merits of people’s reaction and how so many have vilified Joe Paterno. In some people’s eyes, he is guilty for not having done enough. It doesn’t matter to them that even the prosecution agreed that Paterno had done his job by reporting the incident to both his boss and to the person who oversaw the police department at Penn State. But to some, he did not do enough. And to them, Joe Paterno’s legacy will forever be linked to a scandal that did not even directly involve him.
But I choose to remember Joe Paterno as the man with the black rimmed glasses who patrolled Penn State’s sidelines with rolled up pants, white socks, and a windbreaker for over four decades as the head coach. He should be remembered for the way he taught his athletes to have “success with honor.” In a world of college athletics where so many athletes do not excel in the classroom, Paterno saw to it that his players graduated. Throughout their time playing for him, his players were taught valuable life lessons that they could take with them for the rest of their lives that would go way beyond football.
I know so many will disagree with me because the Penn State sex scandal is still such a fresh topic. But, even though I was never a Penn State fan, I want to see the legacy of Joe Paterno be one largely dominated by the myriads of positives that plastered his coaching career. Not the heinous crimes of someone else.
Joe Paterno, you did not deserve to spend your remaining weeks on this earth being vilified. Despite the fact that you did not die on the football field as so many always thought you would, your legend will go on. And eventually you will be remembered as one of the greatest coaches of any sport that this world has ever seen. You have not only been an inspiration to your players over the past half a century, but you have been an inspiration to coaches at every level. You wanted the best for your athletes. You never let the pressures of coaching wear you down and you never gave up.
RIP in peace, Coach.
December 21, 1926 – January 22, 2012