Penn State Scandal: Sandusky's Actions Shouldn't Tarnish Paterno's Legacy

Mike HaasContributor IINovember 8, 2011

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Head coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions during warmups before facing the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The opinion I'm about to give is going to seem repugnant. Morally wrong. Counter to the gut reaction most people have. In other words, this is going to be a Gregg Doyel column.

A New York Times article reports that Penn State is planning Joe Paterno's exit after this season amid the Jerry Sandusky scandal. And that's wrong.

Jerry Sandusky is a disgusting figure. There's no arguing about that. But JoePa doesn't deserve to be lumped in with that monster.

Police said that Paterno fulfilled his legal obligation when he notified his superiors of a graduate assistant's allegations of Sandusky's abuse. But the coach has come under fire for failing to report the accusations directly to police himself.

Let's step back for a moment. Sandusky coached under Paterno for nearly three decades. The two were not only colleagues, they were presumably friends.

Imagine if you became aware of a terrible accusation levied against a close personal friend. The moral dilemma would be suffocating. Can we fault Paterno for following the proper chain of authority, and then washing his hands of the matter?

We shouldn't. And we shouldn't let one unfortunate lapse in judgment tarnish the reputation of a man who, by all accounts, has been an outstanding leader and role model to the thousands of young men he's coached over the last 46 years.

We're talking about a man whose program has never been investigated by the NCAA. Who, along with his wife, has donated more than $4 million to Penn State. Who regularly graduates more than 85 percent of his players, nearly 20 percent higher than the average BCS football program.

Over the past several years in particular we've seen that no coach is immune to scandal. But firings have come mainly from two different types of transgressions.

The first are the Mike Prices of the world, done in by their own off-field conduct. Price was fired in 2004 before ever coaching a down for Alabama after an embarrassing incident with a stripper came to light.

The second, more traditional types are the Jim Tressels, who leave amid a whirlwind of recruiting and benefits infractions involving the program's players.

Neither type describes Paterno, who only failed to report an accusation of an assistant's inappropriate action to the police. The heinous nature of Sandusky's crimes colors public opinion on this one. If Sandusky were guilty of a Mike Price-level transgression, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Unfortunately, Paterno will probably be gone after this year. Public outrage is too great to justify keeping him on as head coach.

But it will be a crime in and of itself if the Sandusky scandal takes anything away from Paterno's legacy.

While many will use this incident to characterize Paterno as "just another scandal-bitten football coach," we've got 46 years of service and thousands of grateful former Penn State football players that suggest otherwise.