A legend is laid to rest
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Few college coaches embody an entire university and everything that the program, school and community as a whole stands for. Like Paul "Bear" Bryant in Tuscaloosa and Knute Rockne in South Bend, Happy Valley's rich history was carved out by the larger than life persona of Joe Paterno.
The Hall of Fame coach passed away last Sunday due to complications from lung cancer and although his abrupt dismissal from his post in November due to a child-sex scandal that rocked the foundations of the once teflon-coated school, we should never lose sight of one man's quest to do things the right way.
Paterno was born December 21, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York. He went on to play football at Brown University (1946-49) and landed at Penn State in 1950 under then head coach Rip Engle, Fifteen years later, Paterno took over for the retired Engle and remained at that post up until this past November.
Paterno amassed an FBS-record 409 victories in his 46 years at the helm, was named the National Coach of the Year five times, winning two national titles (1982, 86) and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
The man with the coke-bottle glasses, rolled up pant legs and classic wind- breaker, manned the sidelines in Happy Valley for nearly half a century, coaching five undefeated teams and two national championshps.
There were certainly times over the years that it seemed like the game had passed JoePa by, but he stayed the course and continued to build a program that achieved both on and off the field. He mentored thousands of young men that have gone on to live richly fulfilling lives. He stayed loyal to his university and although he certainly made his fair share of money, he funneled a good portion of it back into the school.
"His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled," his family said in a statement.
"He died as he lived. He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been. His ambitions were far reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them. He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community."
A well crafted statement that tells Paterno's tale far better than the events of the last few months.
The final chapter in the man's life should not be taken out of context and erase a lifetime of achievements.
Paterno's loyalty, although one of his greatest assets, was also a huge reason for his downfall.
It was in November that former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested for a child-sex abuse scandal that tore apart a university that was up to that point, scandal-free.
Regret is something Paterno admitted in a Washington Post interview published a few days before his death.
"In hindsight," Paterno told the Post reporter, "I wish I had done more."
In the interview, Paterno said he was "afraid" to jeopardize university procedure after he was told by assistant coach Mike McQueary what McQueary had seen in a university locker room.
McQueary left out graphic details of the event according to Paterno, who then passed the information he had on to his superiors at the school.
"So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did," Paterno said. "It didn't work out that way."
Certainly in looking back at the events that unfolded, it was naive on his part to "pass the buck" and hope for the best. However, naivety does in no way make him complicit in Sandusky's alleged crimes.
Being able to separate all the good from the obvious bad of late will be for each individual to decide and obviously there will be plenty of people at opposite ends of the spectrum when Paterno's name comes up in conversation.
For me, the indelible mark Paterno leaves on Penn State University, college football and academia as a whole, far outshines the Sandusky scandal that ultimately brought his extraordinary career to an abrupt end.
01/27 13:09:06 ET