Joe Paterno: Like Bear Bryant, Penn State Great Lived and Died with Football

Jonathan McDanalContributor IIIJanuary 22, 2012

Joe Paterno has passed on, and the similarities between him and Bear Bryant are eerie. Both Paterno and Bryant died less than 60 days after leaving college football. Bryant died in 1983 shortly after his retirement, and Paterno died in 2012 shortly after Penn State fired him late in 2011.

Long-time college football voice Brent Musburger reported on ESPN this morning that he once asked Paterno privately why he didn't retire. Paterno responded that it was simple: Bear Bryant. Like the Bear, Paterno was afraid he would die soon after leaving coaching because he didn't have outside interests, he didn't play golf, etc.

Paterno's legacy will live on at Penn State as Bryant's has at the Capstone. Two coaching legends. Two molders of men. Two larger-than-life icons of football so tied to their occupations that neither lasted two months after leaving the sport they helped define.

At the time of his death, Bryant held the record for most victories in NCAA Division I football with 323 wins—a record that would not be broken until 1996. At the time of Paterno's death, he holds the record for most wins in NCAA Division I/FBS football with 409.

Paterno coached at Penn State and established a code for his players that went beyond the field of play and into the hearts of the nation.

Bryant's famous quote, "Show class, have pride and display character. If you do, winning takes care of itself," established a code of conduct for the players and the future coaches at Alabama that was hard to live up to.

Paterno and Bryant set standards at their schools that resonated across the entire nation. What if all of us lived our lives according to their standards? I think the world would definitely be a better place.

Paterno with a smile on his face, I wouldn't remember him any other way.
Paterno with a smile on his face, I wouldn't remember him any other way.

Were these men perfect? No, they were men—great men who affected every life they encountered.

Paterno coached five undefeated teams in his career that all won major bowl games. Bryant, in turn, coached up six teams that brought National Championships to Tuscaloosa. You don't coach that kind of success without finding a way to get your team to play with their hearts on the field.

Everyone who leaves this earth for the next world is missed by their friends and family. Today, Paterno joins Bryant in that elite group of men who are missed by the entire college football nation. No one will ever live up to the standard of excellence they established at their respective universities.

One can only hope for Penn State that a coach will be willing to raise up teams that remind them of the Lions' glory days. The best thing that the future coaches at State College can do for themselves is accept the fact that no one will ever expect them to replace JoePa. No one will ever replace the Bear, and no one has ever been asked to do so.

Many coaches have come and gone in the last century of college football. Bryant's death came four days before Super Bowl XVII, at which there was a pregame moment of silence. That should be yet another similarity that these two share come Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5.