Eighty-nine days ago Joe Paterno became the winningest coach in major college football history.
Today he died, and we all know what happened in between.
I did not know Joe Paterno personally, but I interviewed him dozens of times from the 1970s to the 200os. I observed his style as a student, a young reporter, an older reporter, an alumni association officer, and finally as a father.
I can tell you this: Joe Paterno was a man who did more good for more people than anyone else I can think of. He ran a major college football program where he insisted his players go to class and most of the time graduate. This I do know first hand. A standout player was in class with me, in fact in my small group. He chose not to show up very much that term, making the rest of our lives tough. He didn’t bother to do much in his other classes, either, and he didn’t play the following fall, even though he would have been a starter. This person went on to play several years in the NFL, but sat when he put football before classes. That was Joe’s way.
There are several former players I know, one of them pretty well. They all talk of how Joe cared about them as people more than players, how he preached the most important thing was for them to be good husbands, fathers, and members of society. Broadcaster Steve Jones is a friend, and I know of the interest Joe took when one of Steve’s children was born with significant health problems.
Joe had a lifelong commitment to Penn State and the State College community. He made Penn State the major national university it is today–not just in football and sports, but academics, too. He and Sue gave $100,000 to the school after its leaders fired him over the phone after 61 years.
We may now never know exactly what Joe knew about the Sandusky allegations. He said he knew only of the McQueary incident, and passed that on to people he thought were more qualified to handle it than he.
I cannot believe Joe would have sat silently by had he suspected assaults were continuing. That is not the man I believe he was.
People, sometimes derisively, called him St. Joe. He was not. He was cantankerous and a control freak, interefered in student discipline matters when he should not have, and was not as open with his program as he should have been.
But for me he will always be the best of what Penn State is. For 61 years that was awfully good.