What Joe Paterno Deserves to Be Remembered For

As JoePa's legendary reign at Penn State draws to a close, remember what he gave to the school.

By + More

It can't end like this.

Joe Paterno, the 84-year-old coaching legend, the great philanthropist, the man who over his 62 years at Penn State helped build an agricultural school into a world-renowned institution of higher learning and substantial caliber, wasn't supposed to go out like this.

He wasn't supposed to be kicked out in the midst of a horrific child-sex scandal in which seemingly everyone in a position of authority turned a blind eye to a man now charged with being an abuser of at least eight young boys--in the team's facilities, no less.

It's impossible to go anywhere without seeing his, and my, beloved university's darkest hours go by in the slowest of slow motion. Every day, it's another turn for the worse. Jerry Sandusky charged with sexually abusing young boys. The athletic director and the then-head of campus police charged with perjury in the investigation, both stepping down after an emergency meeting in Old Main at the 11th hour.

And now, the seemingly impossible: Joe Paterno has been fired.

[Read: Defense of Penn State's Reputation Misguided.]

I always thought there was only one way for JoePa's career roaming the sidelines of Beaver Stadium to come to an end: death. I have often told my friends with a chuckle the scenario in which he falls over on the field and thus submits his resignation from the post he has held since 1966.

That's how it's got to be, whether a heart attack, stroke, or a player plowing into his octogenarian body one time too many.

It seemed funny. It seemed in bad taste. And it seemed fitting.

That was always the thing with JoePa: He couldn't live without being involved with that team and, by extension, that school. I remember only a month ago watching a tribute show in which Joe said he has no hobbies, no off-field interests, nothing really to look forward to when he retires.

This man cannot live without his job. We hear lots of talk about people living for their work, of going above and beyond what's required of them just to accomplish their lofty goals. They have nothing on Joe Paterno, who could have settled for just being the winningest college football coach of all time.

It's never been about that for Joe. He has given more than $4 million to the university. He helped build an extension to the school's library, an extension (named Paterno Library) that cost $22 million and helped make Penn State's one of the most comprehensive libraries in the nation. He constantly preaches producing more than just good football players, but good citizens and men, a mission on which, for the most part, he delivers.

[Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.]

And that's why the notion that he didn't do more to help these boys is so shocking. It seems impossible that a man who cares so much about being a father figure to young men--his famous pseudonym includes "Pa" for a reason--would let such atrocities happen under his watch. Why didn't you go to the police? Why didn't you try harder to help these boys? Why, Joe? Why?

I still don't know whether Paterno deserved to be removed. I don't know whether he did all he could in this case. I do know the parents of these children are understandably outraged that this all happened. I do know they are perfectly justified in calling for his and every coach and administrator to resign and for Penn State to start anew, to grow back from the ashes.

But I also know Joe Paterno deserves better than this. Better than being pushed aside to protect the image of a university that has made every wrong move. Better than letting the university president, who has already tried once before to do so, force him into retirement.

Joe Paterno is Penn State. No matter how the dust on this terrible turn of events settles, Joe Paterno will always be the epitome of the Pennsylvania State University.

That's why I'll always remember him for standing on the winner's podium after the 2006 Orange Bowl. I'll remember him for sprinting off the field to take a bathroom break at Ohio State. I'll remember him for swinging his cane with passion while firing up a pep rally. I'll remember him for saying after winning his 400th game to a crowd of 100,000 screaming fans, "I love you all!"



Updated on 11/10/11