Success With Honor: Joe Paterno’s True Impact

9 Nov

I had the fortune of witnessing Joe Paterno capture his 400th career victory as the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday. Penn State came from behind to defeat the Northwestern Wildcats 35-21 in a thrilling game that I, along with the other 105,000 fans in attendance, will never forget.

Paterno became the first coach in the history of major college football to win 400 games. He will almost certainly be the only FBS coach to ever reach this milestone. But Paterno’s legacy consists of so much more than his win-loss record.

A Library Named After….A Football Coach??

For starters, Paterno donated $4 million of his own money and raised $13.5 million so that Penn State could have one of the premiere libraries in the nation. It was an easy decision for university officials to honor its longtime football coach by naming the new facility “Paterno Library.”

Think about it. How many college libraries out there do you think are named after football coaches??

Academics Are THE Priority

In an age when so many coaches act as glorified pimps, Paterno has never strayed from his mission of “Success with Honor.” While coaches promise the world to recruits if they sign on the dotted line, Paterno knows it’s a long and difficult road to the NFL. While a select few of his 100+ players will get drafted, the majority of his team will need to make a living outside of football. He makes sure that players know from day one they are at Penn State first and foremost to earn a degree.

Paterno worked to earn his degree while being a gridiron star at Brown University (His career total of 14 interceptions is still a school record after 62 years). He expects the same balance from the young men he coaches at Penn State.

Paterno (far right) from his days as a student-athlete at Brown University

The Paterno Standard

A player who does not live up to their potential in the classroom is unacceptable in Paterno’s program. There have been countless examples of player’s being left behind for games to focus on their studies. In 1997, Penn State wide receiver Joe Jurevicius was not allowed to make the trip to the Citrus Bowl because he had skipped a few classes. Jurevicius was in no danger of failing and was academically eligible to play against a very strong Florida Gators team. But Paterno was not pleased with his behavior. Despite being one of the best receivers in the nation and a certain NFL draft pick, Paterno made the decision to keep Jurevicius at home.

Earlier this year he decided to redshirt freshman quarterback Paul Jones so he could focus on his grades. Jones was a leading candidate to start at quarterback, but Paterno decided it was much more important for Jones to adjust to college life. Football can wait.

Simply put, there are the NCAA standards, and then there are Paterno’s standards.

Paterno’s True Legacy

Joe Paterno joking around with players during the 2010 team photo

There is a reason why Penn State has ranked at or near the top of the list for graduation rates every year. Paterno may be the last coach that cares more about molding young men into productive members of society than creating professional athletes. He knows that the world needs doctors, scientists, and educators more than NFL stars with inflated egos.

The 400th win is one of several accomplishments that make up Paterno’s legacy. But Paterno will also go down in history for a timeless pursuit of doing things the right way. As impressive as his on-field accomplishments are, his off-field achievements are what makes him a true original. I could write for as long as Paterno has been at Penn State (61 years as an assistant and head coach) and still not include everything he has done for the Penn State community. In this time he has touched countless lives in a tireless quest to leave the world in better shape than when he came into it.

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2 Responses to “Success With Honor: Joe Paterno’s True Impact”

  1. wesjbest1 November 20, 2010 at 1:30 am #

    Patterno is one of the special gifts to the game of football.It is very mature of him to care enough to want to educate his players, rather than just use their talents for four years. The discipline that he promotes to his players in the classroom definitely carrys over when they play on Saturdays. Make no mistake, that is part of the reason he has built such a storied program.More coaches should take notes from his book.

  2. inventiveeducation November 22, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    College football fans need to enjoy JoePa while they still can. I really hope he hangs around for at least another year or two. Penn State was almost all freshman and sophomores this year and will still play on a New Year’s Day bowl. I would love to see him go out with a national title run. He will always be remembered for doing things the right way and still winning football games (401 and counting…)

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