Joe Paterno 1926-2012 – The Hometown View
Frankly I have decided that I no longer care how history and others judge Joe Paterno, the iconic former Penn State football coach who died Sunday morning at the age of 85.
The winningest coach in college football history died just 73 days after being fired from the only job he ever wanted amid a child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Officially Paterno died of complications from lung cancer but many of his friends and former players said it was a broken heart that took his life as the fallout from the scandal was just too much for a man who was among the most admired in the country before recent developments.
Of course Paterno was the subject of several of my segments in November as the scandal that rocked “Happy Valley” developed into a national story. There is no need to re-hash it just like there is no need for me to try and change the minds of those that have decided he is not saint but a sinner, Actually like just about all of us he is a little of both but to ignore the good is simply close-minded and unfair.
Paterno’s achievements as a coach speak for themselves but to really measure his contributions you need to understand what he did for the hundreds who played for him and even more importantly the countless number of students who enrolled at Penn State in large part because of him.
When the man affectionally known as “JoePa” arrived at Penn State it was mainly known as an agricultural school attended by Pennsylvania residents. They had a good football program and played in a 40,000 seat stadium. Today Penn State is among the top research schools in the nation and recruiters ranked it #1 last year when it came to hiring graduates. There is a library on campus that has his name on it because he’s donated millions, one of the most popular ice cream flavors at “The Creamery” is Peachy Paterno and the football stadium now seats over 108,000. By the way, 61,000 students have applied for admission next fall….about 8000 will get in.
Sure this is personal for me as we’re a Penn State family. My father and George Paterno were pretty much life-long friends. George, a former coach and Penn State broadcaster was two years younger than Joe …he died of a heart attack in 2002. I grew up rooting for the Blue and White and my passion was passed on to my son (Penn State class of 2008) and now my daughter (Class of 2014). Ask them both why they chose a school in the middle of nowhere and they will both mention Joe Paterno among other factors. Now he is gone but in my home he’ll never be forgotten.