According to the Associated Press citing a family source, iconic Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno has died at age 85. The manner was different, but the timing, to Bear Bryant’s Jan. 25 death shortly after retiring at Alabama, was eerily similar.
Paterno coached Penn State from 1966 through 2011, amassing a record 409 career wins (most in Division I history), two national titles (1982, 1986) and three Big Ten titles after joining the conference in 1993. His teams finished undefeated five times and finished with a top ten ranking in either the AP or Coaches poll 22 times. He was a five-time AFCA Coach of the Year.
JoePa was conservative, both with his politics and with his playbooks. Though, on many issues he was his own man, supporting both a Division I-A football playoff or removing the face mask from helmets.
Paterno earned plaudits for his team’s academic performance and for running a tighter ship than many. Paterno built Penn State football, and in many ways Penn State University, raising and personally donating millions to university causes.
This legacy is tempered, however, with notable incidents of insensitivity, regarding racial discrimination and sexual assault, and his inexcusable inaction upon hearing allegations about Jerry Sandusky’s child sex abuse. At peak poignancy his Sandusky role defines him. The future, and potentially future revelations, will decide whether the scandal encompasses him or recedes into a really strong footnote.
In many ways Joe Paterno was a great man. He was also a reminder great men are human and can make profound errors in judgement.
[Update: Via Pete Thamel: “Joe Paterno passed at 9.25 am of metastatic small cell carcinoma of the lung at Mount Nittany Medical Center.”]
[Photo via Getty]
Note: This post first ran last night, based on false initial reporting from Onward State. The text was written beforehand after hearing Paterno was in serious condition. Upon seeing the news published by other outlets, most notably by CBS Sports, and treated as fact by other college football writers. I opted to publish the piece with an attribution to Onward State. This was a grave mistake as the initial report proved erroneous. I offer an earnest apology to our readers and to the Paterno family for any additional stress our publication might have contributed in a time of grieving.