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February 17, 2012

The Clash of Legacy and Loyalty

Derek Shackelford

Fame comes with a price. Sometimes that price is too difficult to calculate. It is not out of the ordinary for human beings to want to be loved and appreciated.


All of us have the sense for some affirmation that encourages our souls and minds. The interesting contradiction of this is how people are loved for what they do more than for who they are.


We can look at the lives of people retrospectively, which is so easy to do. People who experience global notoriety allow us a glimpse into who they are and we form our likes, dislikes and opinion from this perspective. It is on those rare occasions that we are allowed the total landscape into who people really are.


Joe Paterno was not just a national figure; he also had a global persona. It really says so much when the talent of a person creates an aura that goes beyond just the locale of who they are; transcending generations is truly special. Joe Pa did just that in his own unique way. He was able to touch the lives of so many by various means through the vehicle of football coaching.


He became the head football coach of Penn State University in 1966 and won more college football games (409) than any other coach in history. The Hall of Fame coach also won 24 bowl games – the most in history. He also held the record for most bowl appearances with 37.


His teams won the four major bowls, led the Nittany Lions to two national championships and had 29 finishes in the Top 10. This measure of success is second to none and does not include the countless number of lives that he touched by teaching life’s lessons through the vehicle of football.


Current and former players speak highly of the influence that Coach Paterno had on them personally as well as professionally. Many will speak on how they are the better people because of his teaching and concern for them beyond just the football field.


Penn State has also greatly benefitted from Joe Paterno’s presence as its football coach. The visibility of the university has increased and the financial gains from football games should never be underestimated. It can even be said that Coach Paterno became larger than the university.


The university’s identity was tied to the football program and Paterno’s persona. When people thought of Penn State, they identified it with him and the college football program.


Make no mistake about it. College football is big business and the overall university benefits. Shoe and television contracts abound. Corporate sponsors receive a spike in profit margins from college football games. Due to the financial ramifications of college football in its relationship to the university, a power struggle will eventually ensue between the university’s mission and the profit margin that football brings. This was even more evident when Coach Paterno was dismissed by Penn State because of a scandal in which so many share the blame.


Former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested on 40 counts of child sexual abuse. The allegations occurred between 1994 and 2009. Mr. Sandusky was defensive coordinator from 1969 to 1999 while Joe Pa was the head coach.


Some details have been released as to what may have actually taken place and, on one occasion, Coach Paterno was made aware of an incident involving Mr. Sandusky and a minor. What information was shared by Coach Paterno and university authorities is sketchy depending on whose version you hear.


Coach Paterno took a lion’s share of the blame because he didn’t alert law enforcement officials. The public pressure from inside and outside the university initially caused him to announce his retirement at the end of the 2011 season; however, the university instead fired him before the last game of the season.


Joe Paterno was a fine football coach, arguably the best ever. His record certainly speaks for itself. His contributions to college football, players and the university are legendary. As with most legends, their legacies are noteworthy because their accomplishments are many and their influence encompasses a wide range.


Although Joe Paterno has died, his legacy is still being written because of the impending trial of Mr. Sandusky. The same unique quality that made him so special may have also led to his dismissal as football coach. The quality was loyalty.


Yes, fame certainly does come with a price and that cost may be in the millions of dollars. Penn State counted those dollars and realized that the cost of losing them was not worth keeping its football coach.


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