Archive for Sunday, January 22, 2012

Joe Paterno, former Penn State football coach, dead at age 85

January 22, 2012


— Joe Paterno, the longtime Penn State coach who won more games than anyone in major college football but was fired amid a child sex abuse scandal that scarred his reputation for winning with integrity, died Sunday. He was 85.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno, right, makes a comment to Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark (17). The Nittany Lions won in Paterno's 34th bowl appearance, 24-17 over Texas A&M, Saturday in San Antonio.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno, right, makes a comment to Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark (17). The Nittany Lions won in Paterno's 34th bowl appearance, 24-17 over Texas A&M, Saturday in San Antonio.

His family released a statement Sunday morning to announce his death: "His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled."

"He died as he lived," the statement said. "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."

Paterno built his program on the credo "Success with Honor," and he found both. The man known as "JoePa" won 409 games and took the Nittany Lions to 37 bowl games and two national championships. More than 250 of the players he coached went on to the NFL.

"He will go down as the greatest football coach in the history of the game," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said after his former team, the Florida Gators, beat Penn State 37-24 in the 2011 Outback Bowl.

Paterno's son Scott said on Nov. 18 that his father was being treated for lung cancer. The cancer was diagnosed during a follow-up visit for a bronchial illness. A few weeks after that revelation, Paterno also broke his pelvis after a fall but did not need surgery.

Paterno had been in the hospital since Jan. 13 for observation for what his family had called minor complications from his cancer treatments. Not long before that, he conducted his only interview since losing his job, with The Washington Post. Paterno was described as frail then, speaking mostly in a whisper and wearing a wig. The second half of the two-day interview was conducted at his bedside.

"As the last 61 years have shown, Joe made an incredible impact," said the statement from the family. "That impact has been felt and appreciated by our family in the form of thousands of letters and well wishes along with countless acts of kindness from people whose lives he touched. It is evident also in the thousands of successful student athletes who have gone on to multiply that impact as they spread out across the country."

The final days of Paterno's Penn State career were easily the toughest in his 61 years with the university and 46 seasons as head football coach.

It was because Paterno was a such a sainted figure — more memorable than any of his players and one of the best-known coaches in all of sports — that his downfall was so startling. During one breathtaking week in early November, Paterno was engulfed by a scandal and forced from his job, because he failed to go to the police in 2002 when told a young boy was molested inside the football complex.

"I didn't know which way to go ... and rather than get in there and make a mistake," he said in the Post interview.

Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator expected to succeed Paterno before retiring in 1999, was charged with sexually assaulting 10 boys over 15 years. Two university officials stepped down after they were charged with perjury following a grand jury investigation of Sandusky. But attention quickly focused on an alleged rape that took place in a shower in the football building, witnessed by Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant at the time.

McQueary testified that he had seen Sandusky attacking the child and that he had told Paterno, who waited a day before alerting school authorities. Police were never called and the state's top cop later said Paterno failed to execute his moral responsibility by not contacting police.

"You know, (McQueary) didn't want to get specific," Paterno said in the Post interview. "And 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."

On the morning of Nov. 9, Paterno said he would retire following the 2011 season. He also said he was "absolutely devastated" by the abuse case.

"This is a tragedy," the coach said. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

But the university trustees faced a crisis, and in an emergency meeting that night, they fired Paterno, effective immediately. Graham Spanier, one of the longest-serving university presidents in the nation, also was dismissed.

According to Lanny Davis, an attorney retained by the trustees as an adviser, board vice chairman John Surma regretted having to tell Paterno the decision over the phone.

The university handed the football team to one of Paterno's assistants, Tom Bradley, who said Paterno "will go down in history as one of the greatest men, who maybe most of you know as a great football coach."

Thick, smoky-lens glasses, rolled up khakis, jet-black sneakers, blue windbreaker — Paterno was easy to spot on the sidelines. His teams were just as easy to spot on the field; their white helmets and classic blue and white uniforms had the same old-school look as the coach.

Paterno believed success was not measured entirely on the field. From his idealistic early days, he had implemented what he called a "grand experiment" — to graduate more players while maintaining success on the field.

He was a frequent speaker on ethics in sports, a conscience for a world often infiltrated by scandal and shady characters.

His teams consistently ranked among the best in the Big Ten for graduating players. As of 2011, it had 49 academic All-Americans, the third-highest among schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision. All but two played under Paterno.

"He teaches us about really just growing up and being a man," former linebacker Paul Posluszny, now with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, once said. "Besides the football, he's preparing us to be good men in life."

Paterno certainly had detractors, as well. One former Penn State professor called his high-minded words on academics a farce. He was criticized for making broad critiques about the wrongs in college football without providing specifics. A former administrator said his players often got special treatment compared to non-athletes. His coaching style often was considered too conservative. Some thought he held on to his job too long. There was a push to move him out in 2004 but it failed.

But the critics were in the minority, and his program was never cited for major NCAA violations. However, the child sexual abuse scandal prompted separate investigations by the U.S. Department of Education and the NCAA into the school's handling.

Paterno played quarterback and cornerback for Brown University and set a defensive record with 14 career interceptions, a distinction he boasted about to his teams all the way into his 80s. He graduated in 1950 with plans to go to law school. He said his father hoped he would someday be president.

When he was 23, a former coach at Brown was moving to Penn State to become the head coach and persuaded Paterno to come with him as an assistant.

"I had no intention to coach when I got out of Brown," Paterno said in 2007 at Beaver Stadium in an interview before being inducted into the Hall of Fame. "Come to this hick town? From Brooklyn?"

In 1963, he was offered a job by the late Al Davis — $18,000, triple his salary at Penn State, plus a car to become general manager and coach of the AFL's Oakland Raiders. He said no. Rip Engle retired as Penn State head coach three years later, and Paterno took over.

At the time, the Lions were considered "Eastern football" — inferior — and Paterno courted newspaper coverage to raise the team's profile. In 1967, PSU began a 30-0-1 streak.

But Penn State couldn't get to the top of the polls. The Lions finished second in 1968 and 1969 despite perfect records. They went 12-0 in 1973 and finished fifth. Texas edged them in 1969 after President Richard Nixon, impressed with the Longhorns' bowl performance, declared them No. 1.

"I'd like to know," Paterno said later, "how could the president know so little about Watergate in 1973, and so much about college football in 1969?"

A national title finally came in 1982, in a 27-23 win over Georgia at the Sugar Bowl. Penn State won another in 1986 after the Lions picked off Vinny Testaverde five times and beat Miami 14-10 in the Fiesta Bowl.

They have made several title runs since then, including a 2005 run to the Orange Bowl and an 11-1 campaign in 2008 that earned them a berth in the Rose Bowl, where they lost 37-23 to Southern California.

In his later years, physical ailments wore the old coach down. Paterno was run over on the sideline during a game at Wisconsin in November 2006 and underwent knee surgery. He hurt his hip in 2008 demonstrating an onside kick.

An intestinal illness and a bad reaction to antibiotics prescribed for dental work slowed him for most of the 2010 season. Paterno began scaling back his speaking engagements that year, ending his summer caravan of speeches to alumni across the state.

Then a receiver bowled over Paterno at practice in August, sending him to the hospital with shoulder and pelvis injuries and consigning him to coach much of the season from the press box.

"The fact that we've won a lot of games is that the good Lord kept me healthy, not because I'm better than anybody else," Paterno said two days before he won his 409th game and passed Eddie Robinson of Grambling State for the most in Division I. "It's because I've been around a lot longer than anybody else."

Paterno could be conservative on the field, especially in big games, relying on the tried-and-true formula of defense, the running game and field position.

"They've been playing great defense for 45 years," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said in November.

Paterno and his wife, Sue, raised five children in State College. Anybody could telephone him at his modest ranch home — the same one he appeared in front of on the night he was fired — by looking up "Paterno, Joseph V." in the phone book.

He walked to home games and was greeted and wished good luck by fans on the street. Former players paraded through his living room for the chance to say hello. But for the most part, he stayed out of the spotlight.

Paterno did have a knack for joke. He referred to Twitter, the social media, as "Twittle-do, Twittle-dee."

He also could be abrasive and stubborn, and had his share of run-ins with his bosses or administrators. And as his legend grew, so did the attention to his on-field decisions, and the questions about when he would retire.

Calls for his retirement reached a crescendo in 2004. The next year, Penn State went 11-1 and won the Big Ten. In the Orange Bowl, PSU beat Florida State, whose coach, Bobby Bowden, left the Seminoles after the 2009 season after 34 years and 389 wins.

Like many others, he was outlasted by "JoePa."


yourworstnightmare 6 years, 5 months ago

Sad. But so is what happened to countless children because of Paterno's inaction.

Bob Forer 6 years, 5 months ago

"He died as he lived," the statement said. "He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others (except young children who had been anally raped) 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, (so long as doing the right thing didn't threaten his self-perceived legacy)."

Bob Forer 6 years, 5 months ago

I agree with you, old man, that Joe is not solely to blame. But he was the face of Penn State. He was the de facto leader. The buck has to stop someplace.

Bob Forer 6 years, 5 months ago

He was just another Newt Gingrich type. A hypocrite through and through.

Success with Honor.

A myth as laughable as Newt's family values.

Jayhawk1963 6 years, 5 months ago

Yeah, the "family values" of the Dumocrats are sooo much higher, like Slick Willie and Monica (& countless others) or JFK and Marilyn (& countless others) or that serial gigolo John Kerry ! Actually, this kind of behavior is a resume enhancer for them !! You're the one who is laughable !!!

Bob Forer 6 years, 5 months ago

Thanks for the post. Nowadays, it hard to find a free punching bag.

What you fail to realize is that democrats have never run on the platform of family values. The democrats you cite may have lacked discretion, but they were never infected with the duplicity and hypocrisy common among republican leaders.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 5 months ago

Paterno himself told his superiors what he had heard was going on but they failed to follow up. He said that he did not know what else he could do. If this information had turned out to be false, he could have been fired then for falsification of information, which is also a crime. He was not a lawyer. I believe him and I do not fault him for this alleged scandal No one has yet been tried and convicted of any crime, and in a country where you are presumed innocent until PROVEN guilty. Tthis whole sordid mess that was created mostly by the media, always on the lookout for a vicious incendiary story, is absolutely disgusting.

geekin_topekan 6 years, 5 months ago

So a drunk who runs over an innocent pedestrian and drives home to sober up did not kill?

Cai 6 years, 5 months ago

I'm not arguing one way or another for innocence here, but I really fail to see how the two stories are similar.

Paterno didn't do anything to the children, he just failed to report it (again, guilt / innocence / criminal, I'm not arguing - but as far as I know, he didn't ever actually touch anyone inappropriately). This would make him the bystander that saw the drunk hit the pedestrian.

care to enlighten me on how your allegory holds up?

Plurilingual 6 years, 5 months ago

Going to the police and reporting that what his assistant told him would not have been false. It would be hearsay, which while not allowed in the courtroom, is a valuable investigative source.

Your argument is tripe. He shouldn't even have bothered with his "superiors" first.

Chelsea Kapfer 6 years, 5 months ago

The media did not create this story, they reported it. I believe if you witness what he witnessed, then you have a moral obligation to see that it is reported properly. If he superiors did not act then he, himself, should have gone to the police, talked to the victims parents or something...anything.

Getaroom 6 years, 5 months ago

The Sports Mafia and Footballs Godfather. The winning and the game were always more important than putting morals and ethics at the top. Kinda like the gone wild Capitalists Free Market. Yes, Custer, he did smoke on the sidelines as a great mentor to his boys in uniform. Maybe the college students there will protest his death as being unfair too. Well, now he has been released from the big contract in the sky and in a better place, as they say.

A few Hail Marys' and all is well.

zackattackku 6 years, 5 months ago

You're confusing Paterno with Fambrough.

Amy Heeter 6 years, 5 months ago

Ar least now he won't have to watch the rest of the Penn State mess unfold. RIP

Flap Doodle 6 years, 5 months ago

At this moment, little demons are shoving flaming pineapples up his fundament.

Steve Jacob 6 years, 5 months ago

If everyone forgave Michael Jackson in death, we can with Jo Pa also.

Chelsea Kapfer 6 years, 5 months ago

who said everyone forgave Michael Jackson? he, too, is burning in hell.

akt2 6 years, 5 months ago

As if firing a sick, 85 year old man was going to change anything. It's a damn shame how he was treated at the end of his career. They should have waited to do anything until after the pervert assistant coach went to trial. Now we know the coach would probably not have lived much longer and he could have lived his final months without the sideshow. The pedophile in question is responsible for this man and his family's heartbreak too.

Alceste 6 years, 5 months ago

A "sports coach" kicks the bucket. Next story to follow:

There were plenty of other people who kicked the bucket in the last several days. Sorry.....wasn't even space for their deaths.....their lives' weren't as important as this "sports coach".

Really.....what in a pragamtic sense did this guy accomplish?

Aileen Dingus 6 years, 5 months ago

Well, pragmatically speaking, here's just an overview:

In addition to his legacy as a coach, Paterno was highly regarded for his contributions to academic life at Penn State. After the announcement of his hiring in 1966, Paterno set out to conduct what he called a "Grand Experiment" in melding athletics and academics in the collegiate environment, an idea that he had learned during his years at Brown. As a result, Penn State's players have consistently demonstrated above-average academic success compared to Division I-A schools nationwide. According to the NCAA's 2008 Graduation Rates Report, Penn State's four-year Graduation Success Rate of 78% easily exceeds the 67% Division I average, second to only Northwestern among Big Ten institutions.

Paterno was also renowned for his charitable contributions to academics at Penn State. He and his wife Sue have contributed over $4 million towards various departments and colleges, including support for the Penn State All-Sports Museum, which opened in 2002, and the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, which opened in 2003. After helping raise over $13.5 million in funds for the 1997 expansion of Pattee Library, the University named the expansion Paterno Library in their honor.

In 2007, former player Franco Harris and his company R Super Foods honored Paterno for his contributions to Penn State by featuring his story and picture on boxes of Super Donuts and Super Buns in Central PA. A portion of the sales will be donated to an endowment fund for the university library that bears his name.

That's from Wikipedia, so feel free to go read all of it.

Bob Forer 6 years, 5 months ago

Sandusky left in 1998 because he was told he was not going to be the next head coach. At least that was the so-called 'official story.' Bull. If his feelings were hurt, why did he stay in town and continue to be close to the program. Why didn't he find a job elsewhere. He was still in his fifties, and was considered one of the best, if not the best, DC in college football. He could have written his ticket, college or pro.

I got news for you. he didn't quit. Paterno asked for his resignation after he received word of Sandusky naked in the shower hugging the body of a naked young boy. Paterno's mistake was not kicking him as far away from football as possible. (this incident was reported to the police, but for reasons still unexplained, charges were never filed). When new allegations arose in 2002, you know darn well Paterno had to believe them. The reason Paterno choose not to go to the police is that his failure to deal with Sandusky more appropriately in 1998 would have resulted in Paterno being blamed, in part, for the shower incident. Paterno knew, and he did what any dirtbag would do. he covered it up to protect his own butt.

Funny, the first incident in 1998 was reported to the police. But a mere four years later, when Paterno is told of a second incident, he claims he didn't know what to do.

Those of you who claim he did the right thing by telling his superiors are proof positive that the bottom half of the Bell Curve is more than a theoretical proposition. Paterno's claim that he didn't know what to do is an outrageous lie. He knew exactly what was the right thing to do. And he also knew that if he did the right thing, he would probably have been fired for giving Sandusky a mere slap on the wrists four years prior. Remember, he hadn't yet set the all-time win record, which is why he hung on for years after any sane coach would have retired in dignity.

Sure, Paterno has the all time win record. But it should come with an ASStericks, representing the many rectums of young boys he sacrified for a few more football wins.

How absolutely outrageous. And those of you who continue to support the dirtbag disgust me beyond words.

Jack McEnaney 6 years, 5 months ago

Once upon a time there was a happy little valley where they had this crazy thing called


Look at the psycho mr high and mighty who knows every intricate detail of the case that he saw on the news. He is so well informed that he will be an expert witness at the TRIAL! If in fact it is revealed that Sandusky is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt than yes this is as outrageous as you say. However, until that time comes I suggest you shut your mouth so you don't put your foot in it. How many times are people falsely accused mr. expert witness? Until this is settled in court why dont you hold your judgement?

Bob Forer 6 years, 5 months ago

Thanks for the commentary. In tough times like these, its hard to find a free punching bag.

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