By Nathan Palcowski
On Jan. 22, 2012, not only did Penn State University and the rest of the college football world lose a coach, they lost an icon. Legendary football coach Joe Paterno passed away from lung cancer at the age of 85.
Paterno had been the head football coach at Penn State for 46 years. During that time the Penn State Nittany Lions won two national championships and Paterno amassed 409 victories, the most of any college football coach.
“He was Penn State, he was the city, he was everything,” said Kathy Beauregard, athletic director at Western Michigan University.
Despite Paterno’s impressive record and history of giving to the Penn State community, the one story that still lingers is the child sexual abuse charges on former defensive coach Jerry Sandusky in 2002. The allegations that came about ultimately led to the immediate firing of Paterno.
“It was a sad day,” said Frank Ganter, associate athletic director for Football Administration at Penn State. “I just couldn’t believe we let him go.”
Paterno gave more than just time and effort to Penn State. Paterno devoted his life to making the university and the student-athletes he taught, better. Paterno gave more than $4 million to the school’s library, and changed the culture of Penn State football.
“I’d call him a real teacher,” Beauregard said. “He (Paterno) wanted to make a difference in everybody.”
The culture at Penn State is personified by the legend that is Joe Paterno.
Penn State University is in the exact middle of the state of Pennsylvania and the campus, which has over 60,000 students, is surrounded by trees and wildlife. At the center of it all, is the small townhouse of Joe Paterno.
“He was always so gracious to everybody walking by,” Ganter said. “He always wanted to make an impact, somehow, someway.”
College football fans and experts see Paterno as a legend that will never be forgotten.
“He was a great coach, it would have been really cool to play for him,” said Anthony Mikal-Sargent, freshman biochemical engineering major at WMU.
Paterno’s legacy is one that can be reviewed on the basis of championships and wins, but can also be looked at by the “eye of the beholder” in doing the right thing.
During the Jerry Sandusky sex child abuse scandal, Paterno was targeted for not contacting authorities when graduate assistant Mike McQueary came and talked to him about an incident he had witnessed involving Sandusky and a young boy. Paterno reported the incident to former Athletic Director Tim Curley. Curley was supposed to contact the authorities. Some feel Paterno could have done more.
“He should have just gone to the police,” said Jessica Means, a sophomore majoring in public relations, “instead of trying to cover it up and just tell one person.”
The incident led to Paterno’s termination from the university on Nov. 8, 2011, along with Curley and many other university employees. The decision to end Paterno’s employment came only hours after Paterno said he would be retiring at the end of the season.
“I felt bad and sad,” said Bill Cubit, head football coach at Western Michigan. “He was a great coach.”
After dismissal, Paterno was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away in the hospital with his family last Sunday.
“He didn’t die of lung cancer,” said Tom Bryant, junior at WMU majoring in Spanish. “He died of a broken heart.”
Whatever the case may be, Paterno’s passing is something that transcends and changes the college football landscape. Whether Paterno’s legacy is praised by many or tarnished by scandal, his way changed many lives.
“Paterno can teach all of us,” Beauregard said. “To always do it the right way.”