The end of an era
Joe Paterno, who was arguably the most successful coach in the history of college football, passed away from chemotherapy complications at age 85 on Jan. 22.
“He died as he lived,” a statement from the Paterno family read. “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.”
Born in the winter of 1926 in Brooklyn, N. Y., Paterno went on to attend Brown University and starred as the football team’s quarterback for several years under the tutelage of head coach Charles A. “Rip” Engle.
In 1950, Engle became Penn State’s head coach and made the decision to bring on a young Paterno – who had graduated earlier that year – as an assistant.
More than a decade and a half after first being hired, Paterno became the Nittany Lions’ head coach in 1966.
Although the school’s football program steadily improved under the leadership of Engle, Paterno quickly found success as the squad’s head coach. Paterno led the Nittany Lions to an undefeated season in only his third campaign as the team’s head coach and claimed national championships in both 1982 and 1986.
During Paterno’s tenure with Penn State’s football program – which was home to dozens of future-professional football players – also evolved into one of the most popular teams in the sport.
When it was all said and done, Paterno claimed over 400 wins and 24 bowl-game victories over the course of his 46-year career – all records –as head coach of the Nittany Lions.
However, Paterno’s controversial forced resignation from the program this past year has come to overshadow his impressive run at Penn State.
On Nov. 5, Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State defensive coordinator, was arrested on more than three dozen counts relating to sexual abuse of eight boys over a decade-and-half long span – including alleged incidents that occurred at Penn State.
According to a 2011 grand jury investigation, Mike McQueary, then a graduate assistant at the university, told Paterno in 2002 that he had witnessed Sandusky abusing a young boy in Penn State football’s shower facilities. As per the report, Paterno notified athletic director Tim Curley about the incident, and later notified Gary Schultz, the university’s director of business and finance.
After news of the incident broke, Paterno was heavily criticized by many – including elements of local law enforcement – for not personally reporting the matter to the authorities.
Within a week of Sandusky’s arrest, Paterno announced that he intended on resigning at the conclusion of the 2011-12 campaign. Later that evening, however, the school’s Board of Trustees voted to immediately relieve Paterno of his coaching duties.
In reaction to the news of Paterno’s dismissal, thousands of supporters protested on campus to display their anger and frustration, chanting the embattled former coach’s name, tearing down light poles, and even overturning a television news van.
Nowhere is Paterno’s mixed legacy more evident than on Twitter, where thousands of users have so far commented on his passing.
“Please remember all the good,” college basketball analyst Dick Vitale offered.
“RIP Joe Paterno – this hero convinced a generation of brainless sports fans that covering for a serial child rapist is a noble act,” tweeted Gregory Violet.
“Joe Paterno – He loved college football & coached with commitment to excellence,” offered Lou Holtz, a former college football coach. “He loved his players & his players loved him.”
“Joe Paterno died? That’s one way to beat the rap,” noted Otto & George. “Now just his family has to live with the shame of his bad decisions.”
“Joe Paterno you will be remembered for all the good you did and all the young people you’ve inspired,” noted actor Josh Duhamel. “Rest in peace.”
“RIP Joe Paterno,” Brandon Dunson tweeted. “Society, the media, and ESPECIALLY Penn State should feel terrible about what they did to him in his final months.”
Ultimately – as evidenced by the thousands of tweets that were logged almost immediately after his death – Paterno will most likely be remembered for both his remarkable tenure as Penn State’s football coach and his unfortunate involvement in Sandusky’s scandal.