Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Joe Paterno

Walking past me as he entered the visiting coaches booth at Kinnick Stadium was one memory I will have of Joe Paterno. Due to an injury occurred much earlier, Paterno was forced to watch his team play away from his typical surroundings of the Penn State sideline and from the press box of many different stadiums. And it was on this day the long-time leader of the Nittany Lion football team watched his nationally ranked, number three team fall to the Hawkeyes on a last second field goal.

Years earlier, while in State College for the NCAA Wrestling Championships, another encounter with Paterno was very unexpected. Arriving in Happy Valley days prior to the Championships, my assistant and I decided to visit our peers with the football team. We walked into the complex through a back door to the video offices, but they were out of the office, setting up for the championships. We walked back out, and drove away only to be stopped at a nearby traffic light. Looking in my rear view mirror I see an older gentleman behind the wheel of a Cadillac with these iconic glasses on. And immediately I said, "Joe Paterno is right behind us." Something very unexpected, but probably common in this small central Pennsylvania college town.

Paterno has been the face of Penn State University for at least 30 years. And that has been discussed since November whether that is healthy for this Big Ten institution. However if he hadn't been the face, most likely Penn State would not be in the Big Ten, the football stadium would not need to seat over 100,000 and the most iconic symbol of the school would be the creamery.

Penn State and State College owe much of its notoriety to Paterno. A big-time school that sits hours from the nearest metropolitan area, grew because of its football program. The infrastructure to get to State College would still be single-lane highways, the airport would not have a runway able to land major airplanes, and the economic impact of the small community wouldn't be as great if it had not been for the success of the Nittany Lion Football team. And that is a tribute to Paterno.

The tributes I've read from my peers who have worked for him over the years have credited Paterno for making them who they are today, and are appreciative of him for taking chances by hiring them. Video for Paterno is a very foreign thought. Until he coached his last day his process of reviewing a game hadn't changed since the advent of the video tape. He continued to watch the previous game in chronological order on a simple VHS tape. Coaches of today can be seen watching each side of the ball collectively on either their laptop or iPad. But Paterno continued to concentrate on watching the entire game as he did over twenty years ago, and in a similar fashion when it was attached to a reel, connected to a projector.

My peers continued to face challenges as Paterno would not accept change in the video world. And as much as they wanted to take the next step technologically, it needed to be a commitment of Paterno's assistant coaches to convince the head coach it was the right direction to take. And as the Penn State video staff struggled over the years to convince Paterno of making any changes, at the end of the day, the appreciated Joe for trusting them with making a impact on Penn State football and its family.

None of us could've imagined that Penn State football would be in its current day shape. When many programs were facing probation periods and going through coaching changes every few years, Penn State was the stable force that everyone admired. A program that did everything right and with a coach who had no interest ever in leaving for someone better. But that changed in November and that stable force that the Penn State family relied upon was gone amid accusations no one could've imagined. And it was these charges that every one attributes to the demise of Joe Paterno's health and ultimate death.

Joe Paterno will always be associated with the accusations in November of the Penn State Football program, as he should. But I understand how difficult it is for the Penn State family to have to deal with this. The one standard in most of their lives is gone and change is never easy. Even if it is the change of football coaches. As life changed for many, Joe was the constant they could rely upon.

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