The statue wall outside Beaver Stadium used to say the following:
“Joseph Vincent Paterno: Educator, Coach, Humanitarian.”
And that about sums it up. People who believe Paterno was just a football coach are kidding themselves. More than any coach in sports history, Paterno’s impact spread well beyond his greatness leading his team on the field.
He demanded his players have strong academic standing, exemplified by his team’s top graduation rates year in and year out. He cared deeply about how his players performed on the field, but understood that their success after college was the most important thing. He didn’t coach for the money, shown by his modest home and lifestyle and his constant donations to Penn State. And even in his final days, Paterno remained loyal to the university that employed him for 61 years.
“They ask me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone. I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach,” a Paterno quote on the wall outside the statue read. –And Rodney Erickson and the Board of Trustees Removed it.
Oh JoePa, you certainly did. Before Paterno arrived at Penn State as an assistant in 1950, the school and its football program was barely known. In 2012, as Paterno has left this earth, the football team had national power status and a stadium with more than 108,000 seats. And with the help of the millions he donated to the school and the many lives he affected, the university has become a respected academic institution.
In today’s college and professional sports world, winning overrides everything. Class, academics and sportsmanship often seem to be thrown out the window. Most coaches appear to care about their paychecks and the championships they have won more than teaching young people to become better in their lives.
Paterno had a connection with the Penn State community that can’t be compared to any other coach in history. For more than half a century, Paterno was the face of Penn State. To players, students, alumni and fans, JoePa was a father or a grandfather figure. This close relationship was displayed by the strong emotional reaction on Penn State’s campus by students and fans on Sunday January 22, 2012 after news of his death.
There are and will always be great coaches. But none of them will ever be Joe Paterno