When it comes to Penn State, there’s no more recognizable face than that of the true Italian Joseph Vincent “Joe” Paterno. You’ve probably seen him, he wears the coke-bottle glasses, hikes up his pants, and still has a flowing head of hair at the ripe age of 84.
The man that stands at roughly 5’7 is the mecca of Penn State football, and to a larger degree, Pennsylvania State University. He sometimes he stands a full foot below some of his players, but isn’t shy about grabbing a facemask or two during practice even if he’ll turn 85 in December.
To say that the Nittany Lions have had coaching stability would be an understatement, Paterno has been coaching in Happy Valley since Lyndon B. Johnson was in office. It’s not stability, it’s unprecedented. Consider that well over 850 coaching changes have taken place in Division I or the FBS since Paterno has been at the helm.
Sure JoePa gets credit for his 408 wins, most all-time in FBS, and for his two National Championships and three undefeated seasons, but what he doesn’t get enough credit for is building the Penn State football brand, and building it the right way. Penn State University is located in middle of nowhere, Pa., but yet churns out quality college football teams like an assembly line.
You can’t say Penn State without saying Joe Paterno right before or right after. Try it, it just doesn’t sound right.
Penn State…..Joe Paterno…..Joe Paterno….Penn State. It just feels right.
But the best part about Joe Paterno isn’t the wins, or his titles, or even his infectious personality. It’s his genuineness.
In today’s age of college football with payment schemes, improper benefits and lies, JoePa is running one of the cleanest programs around. In Happy Valley there is no talk of whether the team practices more hours a week than allowed by the NCAA (ahem Michigan). In Happy Valley there is no talk of improper benefits like cars and tattoos (ahem Ohio State). In Happy Valley there are no players being suspended for on-field actions (ahem Michigan State). There is no talk of boosters giving players access to anything their hearts desire (ahem Miami).
There’s just a football program, where the only sanctions come from the man himself. To open the 2008 season, following a string of player arrests the previous season, Paterno held the players accountable, having them spend Sundays cleaning the 108,000+ seat Beaver Stadium as punishment. I’ve been to games over the past four years, and trust me, that’s no easy task.
Most recently, Penn State running back Stephfon Green was suspended by Paterno for academics. Despite Green being a senior and a key contributor to his team in recent years, Paterno held him off the field for the first five games, citing that Green had things to prove to him before he would play again. The 84-year-old held his ground and it took a group of Penn State players to go to Paterno to convince him that Green deserved to be back with his team. Instead of being entrenched in his stance, Paterno listened to his players, who said that they felt Green had earned the right to play again. He listened, and Green thrived.
The Pattee and Paterno Library on the campus of Penn State University that Joe and Sue helped raise over $13 million to expand.
Paterno has given millions of dollars over the years to the university, who’s library bares the name of himself and his wife Sue, Paterno Library. He was also influential in support for the Penn State All-Sports Museum, which opened in 2002. He has also been concerned with his players’ academics since arriving on campus in 1966, conducting a “Grand Experiement,” involving the infusion of athletics and academics. According to the NCAA‘s 2008 Graduation Rates Report, Penn State’s four-year Graduation Success Rate of 78% easily exceeds the 67% Division I average, second only to Northwestern in the Big Ten.
Do players love playing in a spread offense like the one Chip Kelly runs out at Oregon? Of course. Do players love playing in the warm weather of Florida? Sure they do. But in the middle of Pennsylvania, players are just as happy playing for their legendary coach.
“It’s special to play for a guy like that,” Silas Redd said following Joe’s most recent victory in which he tied Eddie Robinson for first on the all-time DI wins list.
Having had the pleasure and honor of shaking Joe’s hand a few times, I can honestly say that the man is a model for what a college football coach should be, It’s a shame that each day, with every scandal, that he’s becoming more of a dying breed.
JoePa’s No. 21 Nittany Lions face the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday at 3:30 in Beaver Stadium.