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Joe Paterno: Looking Back at Penn State Legend's Unparalleled Career

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterJanuary 22, 2012

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 1: Head coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on during the 2010 Capital One Bowl against the LSU Tigers at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium on January 1, 2010 in Orlando, Florida. Penn State won 19-17. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Joe Paterno's life and career in college football have come to a tragic and abrupt end. The former Penn State coach died on Sunday at the age of 85, according to the Associated Press. 

Paterno's legacy, though clearly tainted by his former assistant's alleged crimes and their handling thereafter, remains largely one of the most tremendous achievements both on and off the football field.

Paterno spent 62 years on staff with the Nittany Lions, serving as the head coach over the final 46. Penn State won 409 games on Paterno's watch, making him the winningest coach the history of NCAA Division I football. Five of Paterno's teams finished undefeated, two of which were crowned national champions.

All told, Paterno guided the Nittany Lions to 24 bowl victories and three Big Ten titles during his tenure.

Credit: The Associated Press
Credit: The Associated Press

Paterno was also instrumental in the institution of instant replay in college football.

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Spurred on by two controversial calls against his team in 2002, Paterno became an outspoken proponent of video review, which the Big Ten adopted in 2004, becoming the first football conference to do so.

But it wasn't just the frequency with which Paterno's squads picked up wins or Paterno's own efforts to change conditions on the gridiron that made him a giant in the sport and earned him a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

Paterno had long been lauded for bringing to fruition his "Grand Experiment," emphasizing academics along with athletics to foster a winning environment that produced great players and even better citizens. As a result, the graduation rate of Penn State's football players has far exceeded the national average just about every year since Paterno took over.

Along the way, Paterno helped foster Penn State's growth from a small school in central Pennsylvania to a large public research university with a multibillion-dollar endowment and an enrollment of nearly 45 thousand students.

Paterno and his wife, Sue, contributed millions of dollars of their own to the university and helped raise many more, contributing to the construction of the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, the Penn State All-Sports Museum and the expansion of what is now known as the Paterno Library.

Paterno's love for and commitment to Penn State led him to turn down a number of high-profile coaching jobs, including those with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New York Giants and the University of Michigan. 

Paterno was the first college football coach to be recognized as the Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated and was many times recognized as the coach of the year in college football by the Associated Press, the NCAA, the American Football Coaches Association, the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association and the Football Writers Association of America.

Paterno's football career began at Brown, where he played quarterback and cornerback under Rip Engle from 1946 until 1949. He later followed Engle to Happy Valley when Engle took the top job at Penn State in 1950.

JoePa won't go down as what he'd long been seen prior to November's shocking revelations, but he will undoubtedly be missed by millions and remembered by many more as an icon who positively impacted the more lives than anyone will ever know.

 

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