Success With Honor: Penn State Rolls To 9-0. But That Makes Sense

Matt PicchiettiContributor IOctober 26, 2008

Penn State’s football motto is Success with Honor and that makes sense when you think about the head coach.  

I’ve always loved Penn Sate’s home uniforms: simple, classy, sharp. Most importantly they are nameless. No individuals, just one team, the way it should be. That makes sense when you think about the head coach. Joe Paterno is simple, classy, and at 81, still sharp.

Paterno dresses more like a Blues Brothers fan club member than the winningest coach in college football. ( I love the black shoes with the white socks.)  

His team has just knocked off an angry Ohio State team in Columbus for the first time since the Carter administration….with a back-up quarterback...while coaching from a booth.

Did I mention that the game was in Columbus? In front of an Ohio Stadium-record crowd of 105,711?  

Now I’m not a PSU alum, I’m never even been to Happy Valley, but I do coach football; albeit at the high school level and the biggest factor in coaching is time. There never seems to be enough.

 I spend 25-30 hours a week with coaching/coaching-related duties: breaking film down, chasing after kids with garbage grades, scouting next week’s opponent, etc. all while trying to implement a game plan for a 9:30 a.m. kickoff on Saturday mornings. This is for freshman football.

(Whoever had that brainstorm of an idea, 9:30am football for seventy sleepy-eyed freshmen….and six bleary-eyed coaches, needs to be taken behind the wood shed.)

At 81, Joe Pa is spending at least 60 hours a week working. Sixty!! I know plenty of 30-year-olds that whine about their 40-hour work weeks. With each interview it is obvious that he is healthy and well aware of what his team is up to.

We can spend all day looking at Joe Pa’s football numbers, but they boil down to these:

He’s in his 43rd year as head man of the Nittany Lions.

He’s 381-125-3, including Saturday’s win.

He’s coached 74 First-Team All Americans.

He’s won 2 Big Ten titles

He’s coached in 34 Bowl games.

He’s won 2 national titles.


(It should be 3 but somehow, the 12-0 team from 1994 finished a distant second behind Nebraska. Now the Blackshirts were pretty good that year, but the Big 8, later to become the Big 12, was not nearly the conference the Big 10 was. Oddly enough, the title was Tom Osborne’s first. Perhaps a little sympathy conspiracy for the Big Red legend? You bet.)

Blah-Blah-Blah. Whatever. These are not the numbers that reflect Jo Pa’s greatness.

These numbers do:

In 1998 Joe gave a gift of 3.5 million dollars to PSU. This gift endows faculty positions and scholarships in the College of the Liberal Arts; the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture; the University Libraries. It also helped support two building projects: A new interfaith spiritual center and the Penn State All-Sports Museum.

In 2003, the team turned their annual weight-lifting competition into a fund-raiser when a player’s father was diagnosed with kidney cancer. The event, now known as Lift for Life, has raised more than $225,000 since its inception.

In 2007 it was released that Paterno makes $512,664 annually, excluding endorsements. Other notable salaries for college coaches include:

Charlie Weis–$3,300,000

Pete Carroll–$3,000,000 

Kirk Ferentz–$2,850,000

Mack Brown–$2,550,000

Bobby Petrino–$2,500,000

Jim Tressel–$2,450,000

Bob Stoops–$2,400,000

Tommy Tuberville–$2,200,000

Urban Meyer–$2,000,000

Is Urban Meyer really worth more than three times Joe Paterno?

Over the past five years, the Nittany Lions' graduation rate was the highest in the country three times. Most recently it peaked at 83 percent, exceeding the national average by 19 points. 


He’s coached 15 Hall of Fame Scholar-Athletes

He’s coached 27 first-team ESPN The Magazine Academic All-Americans

He’s coached 18 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship winners.

Penn State has had at least one Academic All-American in each of the past six years, most recently junior tackle Gerald Cadogan in 2007.


That makes sense when you think about the head coach. He is a Brown grad.


Think about how much society has changed since 1966. Think how much the business of sports, the commercialization and glamorization of sports, has evolved. Athletes have become more Hollywood than ever before. Elite athletes look at college as a stepping stone to the NFL.

Think how much the students have changed. Think about how much more high-maintenance students, athletes and parents are these days. There are more kids growing up in less structured homes; more students on more kinds of medications than ever before (this is the Ritalin generation); and all the designer performance enhancers sold at places like GNC to contend with as well.

Joe Pa’s had a lot to work against and he’s always tried to do things the right way.

Others argue that Penn State has thugs. An ESPN report last summer that revealed 42 Penn State players faced 163 criminal charges since 2002, and that 27 of them pleaded guilty to 45 charges.

Do not kid yourselves. College football is a business. Every university knows this and every athletic director knows this. Athletic success keeps the university in the papers and enrollments up.

It may be unpopular to say, but every college football teams has/needs a handful of over-aggressive personalities.

As fans, do you really want to watch a “nice” game of football? I don’t. If I did, I’d watch soccer.

I want collisions. I want to watch people hit and be hit. I want anger. Mostly, because I want my team’s victory to vicariously become mine. I want their swagger to become my swagger. That takes attitude.

Most of these athletes can turn that part of their personalities down when not playing. Some cannot and these are the ones who end up in the news. If they were not athletes, their actions would not even make the back page.  

I argue that because athletes have a place to vent physically that they are better adjusted than the general population. From the Columbine to Va. Tech, have any of the ultra-violent school disasters in the past decade involved athletes?

Sure, some Lions will stray from the pack, but not the ones that matter

I’m sure Joe Pa is not as hands on with the team as in previous decades. I’m sure that he is more a recruiting figure-head and makes fewer  game-time decisions than ever before. But how many living legends are left? (Maybe one in Wooden?) How many people actually practice what they preach and can say they been able to do that for half a century?

I wish Joe Pa the best as he takes his Lions to Iowa next week. Chances are he’ll get his 382nd victory and chances are that this will not be his final season. But that makes sense; it is, after all, Joe Pa.