Penn State 101: Joe Paterno

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Penn State 101: Joe Paterno
(Photo by Danny Moloshok/Getty Images)

Joe Paterno.  His name is synonymous with college football.  The trademark Coke-bottle glasses and nose would surly find a spot on a college football Mount Rushmore if one were ever created.  To say that Penn State football would be incomplete without the Brooklyn native pacing up and down the sideline would be an understatement.

Joe Paterno is Penn State football.

At this stage of his career you may find it difficult to believe that Paterno was not always the head coach.  The college football icon has coached the Nittany Lions since 1966 as a head coach, but also served as an assistant coach under Rip Engle from 1950 to 1965 before taking over the program.

Paterno was also a stand out college football player at Brown University.  In 2003 the Brown Bears unveiled their top 50 players in the program's history and none other than Paterno was listed under the corner backs. 

With Brown, Paterno still holds school records for interceptions in a season (14) and interception yards (290).  Paterno also ranks third in Brown history with 350 punt return yards and is a member of the Brown Athletic Hall of Fame.

After his playing career wrapped up at Brown, where he was coached by Engle, Paterno was offered to come to Penn State as an assistant under his coaching protege.  And thus the legend was born.  throughout his lengthy career Paterno has picked up a number of awards, crowning him as an elite coach in college football.

Awards
1972 Walter Camp Coach of the Year
1978 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year
1981 Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year
1982 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year
1986 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year
1986 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year
1986 Paul "Bear" Bryant Award
1994 Walter Camp Coach of the Year
2002 Amos Alonzo Stagg Award
2005 Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year
2005 Home Depot Coach of the Year
2005 Walter Camp Coach of the Year

How many coaches have been named Walter Camp Coach of the Year in three different decades?

One.  Only Paterno has been awarded the Walter Camp Coach of the Year in three different decades, and somehow missed out in the 1980's, the decade in which he won two national championships.

Under the guidance of Paterno Penn State was crowned as national champions twice, in 1982 and 1986.  But there should be more.  Penn State has had undefeated seasons in 1968, 1969, 1973, and 1994 and despite the successes on the field in those seasons the Nittany Lions could no better than number two in the final standings.  Perhaps this is the reasoning for Paterno's somewhat liberal view on the playoff debate in college football.

Known as a political conservative, and a vocal supporter for former president George H.W. Bush (Paterno gave a speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention) and a friend of Gerald Ford, it may be somewhat of a surprise to hear Paterno speak out in favor of radical changes in college football and the tradition laden Big Ten conference. 

Paterno has made no secret that he is in favor of expansion in the Big Ten, allowing the conference to organize a championship game, and has at times alluded to his preference for a playoff system in order to settle everything on the field.

Paterno received the ultimate recognition in 2007 when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

"You need to play with supreme confidence, or else you'll lose again, and then losing becomes a habit."
- Joe Paterno

Perhaps no other quote from the mind of the living legend has so much meaning as that.  At the turn of the century Penn State football went through one of the worst stretches in the program's history.  Struggling through four losing seasons between 2000 and 2004 (the Nittany Lions went 9-4 in 2002) brought about many questions from critics and naysayers.

Proclamations that the sport of college football had passed by Paterno were abundant.  Cries for his job were countless.  The thought of Paterno hanging up his patented black sneakers crossed the minds of many in the Penn State community, but it is Paterno who continues to stride forward, telling the disbelievers, as ESPN's Lee Corso might say, "Not so fast my friend."

Since taking the head coaching position at Penn State in 1966 there have 838 coaching changes in the top tier of college football, an average of more than six coaching swaps at each school.  The game of college football does not pass by Paterno; head coaches pass by Paterno on their way to the unemployment line.

While being recognized as a great coach for his actions on the field is great, Paterno tends to take most pride in his actions, and the actions of his players, off the field.  When he started coaching at Penn State Paterno immediately took initiative to ensure that his players not only succeeded on the field, but off of it as well. 

Paterno encouraged his players to keep up their studies and emphasized that winning on the field is good but getting an education and setting yourself up for the future after football was essential. 

It should come as no surprise that Penn State football players graduate a a rate well above the Division I average of 67 percent.  Penn State players graduate at a rate of 78 percent, second in the Big Ten behind Northwestern.

Paterno does not stop there.  Name me another college football head coach who has a wing of the school's library named after him.  Joe Paterno does in honor of his charitable contributions to help expand the Patte Library at Penn State's University Park campus. 

In addition to the library Paterno and his wife, Sue, have contributed over $4 million in funds to various academic departments which have helped Penn State to grow and provide a better environment to educate.

Joe Paterno Record by Year
1966 5-5
1967 8-2-1
1968 11-0
1969 11-0
1970 7-3
1971 11-1
1972 9-3
1973 12-0
1974 10-2
1975 9-3
1976 7-5
1977 11-1
1978 11-1
1979 8-4
1980 10-2
1981 10-2
1982 11-1*
1983 8-4-1
1984 6-5
1985 11-1
1986 12-0*
1987 8-4
1988 5-6
1989 8-3-1
1990 9-3
1991 11-2
1992 7-5
1993 10-2
1994 12-0
1995 9-3
1996 11-2
1997 9-3
1998 9-3
1999 10-3
2000 5-7
2001 5-6
2002 9-4
2003 3-9
2004 4-7
2005 11-1
2006 9-4
2007 9-4
2008 11-2
2009 ?

 

At the age of 82 everybody wonders at the beginning of the football season, "Is this Paterno's final year?"  The truth is he he may stick around long enough to reach 400 wins and then some.  He has left no question that he would like to this coaching gig as long as he is able too and he will always tell you that he feels great.

Maybe he stays away from extra helpings of Peachy Paterno, a popular ice cream flavor at the famous Penn State Creamery.

There is no doubt that Paterno has been an icon in the sport of college football and has mentored many people, not just football players, in his time.  Feel free to share any ways that Paterno has influenced your life in any way in the comments section.  You are also invited to share your favorite Paterno memory.

To read the original article on Examiner.com, click here.

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