Dienhart: Marking The Passing of a Legend

Penn State, college football and the nation have lost an icon with the passing of Joe Paterno, who succumbed to a short battle with lung cancer. For almost the last 50 years, Paterno, 85, became the face of Penn State, if not the college football world. Prowling the sideline of Beaver Stadium in his pant legs rolled up exposing his white socks and sporting his famously thick, black glasses, Paterno would become the all-time winningest coach in major college history.

But Paterno meant so much more to the Penn State family. He wasn’t Coach, he was Paterno, he wasn’t Joe … he was “JoePa,” a beloved father figure from a black-and-white era who seemingly stood for all the right things even as the world and its values changed.

But despite all of the victories, all of the millions of dollars he and his wife donated to various university causes, Paterno’s legacy forever will be stained by the sex abuse scandal that cost him his job—and good name.

While Paterno faced no legal ramifications from the child sex-abuse accusations against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky that shook the nation, many feel he fell short in his moral obligation to do more to stop the alleged abuse he was made aware of it in 2002 by an assistant.

Paterno said he told his boss—A.D. Tim Curley–about the abuse assistant coach Mike McQueary told him that he had witnessed between Sandusky and a youth, which was all Paterno legally was obligated to do. Paterno later said in November that “with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

News of the child sex-abuse case broke soon after Paterno beat Illinois on October 29 to become the all-time winningest FBS coach with 409 victories. He subsequently was fired on November 8.

Earlier this month, Paterno spoke publicly for the first and only time since the scandal broke. In an interview with the Washington Post, Paterno said he was hesitant to make follow up calls about what he was told by McQueary because he didn’t want to be seen as trying to exert influence for or against Sandusky.

“I didn’t know which way to go … And rather than get in there and make a mistake,” Paterno told the Post, trailing off.

After arriving in State College, Pa., in 1950 as an assistant to Rip Engle, Paterno assumed command of the program in 1966. Over the next 46 years, he built Penn State into a national power. And in the process, he brought the university along with him, instilling an unshakeable pride in alums that’s embodied in the rousing “We are! Penn State!” chant that is the school’s prideful rallying cry.

Paterno’s on-field accomplishments are legendary. He coached five undefeated and untied teams, earning national championships in 1982 and 1986.Many think Paterno should have won more national crowns, as four of his perfect teams (1968, 1969, 1973, 1994) capped seasons by winning major bowls but weren’t accorded national championship status.

Paterno also had a big impact on the Big Ten, leading Penn State to three conference titles (1994, 2005, 2008) and a Rose Bowl championship after the ’94 season with a win over Oregon. Paterno is fifth all-time in Big Ten victories with 95.

The Sandusky investigation marches on at Penn State and is far from complete. But Paterno won’t be around to see how this sordid affair will be punctuated. Regardless, his legacy is cemented … all of the good along with the bad, sad and tragic end that no one could have envisioned being the way Paterno would leave the sport.

Find all of BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart’s work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow him on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and  subscribe to his RSS feed.


Your Opinion?
Show Comments (17 Comments)
Sue Furman on 1/22/2012 @ 11:30am EDT Said:

I have just tuned in to Big Ten Network this morning. The segment is centered on the passing of Joe Paterno. I am extremely disappointed and saddened with the commentary – particulary the statement, “…he shall be forever branded with a scarlet letter…” referring to his firing on November 9th. Why must the media persist in putting the negative slant at the forefront? You are lacking a sensitivity and are are exhibiting a flagrant disregard for his family’s loss. Bad taste…very poor reporting and analysis. Joe Paterno was a great man…why can’t you simply leave it at that?

Sue Furman
Big 10 Network Fan

Greg Ness on 1/22/2012 @ 11:43am EDT Said:

Awesome piece of unbalanced work. 13 paragraphs of which 7 deal with the “scandal”. You did not put much thought into this one. Why did you bother?

Nancy B. on 1/22/2012 @ 1:39pm EDT Said:

I agree with Sue. For those who are “true” alumni, we will remember Joe for the great man that he was and for all of the great things he did for the University. Your coverage on his passing is horrible. Very bad taste indeed!!

Shirley Sheppard on 1/22/2012 @ 2:18pm EDT Said:

Sadly, of Joe Paterno’s own admission, his lack of more action in this situation will forever be part of his legacy. The children he could have protected are more important to me than Joe’s good name! He was JoePa to many but in hearing of this he did not even have the outrage of a father to make sure a proper investigation happened. So sorry but what the writer wrote was not of his, but Joe’s making! And now a prayer for the children!

Albert Cappelloni on 1/22/2012 @ 4:56pm EDT Said:

After listening to DiNardo focus on the scandal and now reading this, the BTN’s anti PennState bias is clearly revealed. This man did what he thought was right. He reported it to others whose job it was to investigate the allegation. With all of these self righteous people pontificating on what he should have done, it is amazing that the world iss not a perfect place. All of these commentators who want to focus on what he could have done I gues have always done everything perfectly, even in hindsight. Paterno was a good man who did a great deal of good. He will be remembered as a tremendous force of good in athletics, education and many other aspects of life.

Sean K on 1/23/2012 @ 2:34am EDT Said:

Amazing, every other media outlet I have seen have taken the high road, not our own conference. Still writing like they know the entire story, which has yet to be written. Have little respect for the writers and commentators employed by the big ten. What a joke.

    Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer on 1/23/2012 @ 5:14pm EDT Said:

    Gee, every account I read about Paterno’s passing mentioned the child sex abuse scandal he let go on. Most of what I and others wrote was balanced, still spending more time talking about JoePa’s accomplishments more than the sad puncuation to his career and life.

Joe Flintosh on 1/23/2012 @ 11:03am EDT Said:

If the child abuse allegations prove to be true (remember – due process?), then we won’t forget the children who went through a terrible ordeal by a despicable man. But JoePa was a simple man; he reminded me of my dad. He was an example of the people in the “old days” who believed that people would do the right thing, because he would. He informed the PSU people responsible for doing the “right thing” and expected them to act by his credo. They didn’t. Those are the ones who deserve your animus.

I’ll remember Paterno as a man – an institution, who took my son (who NEVER played football at Penn State) for 4 years, and by his example and leadership, help mold him into the person he is today. You didn’t have to work with JoePa in order to learn from him; you didn’t have to even meet him. The example that he promoted for the university; an example of honesty, integrity, leadership, and humanity touched anyone who was lucky enough to embrace the qualities of this amazing human being. Right now, those are the people I share sympathy for, because in today’s world of “me, me, me”, where are you going to find another individual to emulate and build today’s youth with the principles that we all should aspire to. This is not only a loss, but a loss for the ages…

Michael Day on 1/23/2012 @ 12:48pm EDT Said:

To echo Keith Jackson, five years from now most of you won’t even remember how to spell Sandusky, but we will all remember the “Grand Experiment”, 409 wins, and success with honor. And fortunately, Tom Dienhart’s column will pass from my memory in about 30 seconds. Worthless.

    Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer on 1/23/2012 @ 4:59pm EDT Said:

    To write of Paterno’s passing and say nothing of the dubious end of his career would make anyone look foolish. Sorry, but BTN isn’t a house organ that’s only there to praise. Why blame the messenger? Paterno had a chance to do more. And he chose not to. Whose fault is that? Mine? BTN’s? Sorry, but the truth hurts. Just because you and others may not like the sound of it doesn’t mean we don’t have to say it.

Joe Flintosh on 1/23/2012 @ 11:21pm EDT Said:

My problem is the media goes out of their way to over emphasize that point. A example: your “wonderful” hour special where the lead was, and I paraphrase; ” Joe Paterno passed away this morning less than 3 months after he was fired as head coach because of the scandal.” How about “Joe Paterno passed away this morning less than 3 months after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.” His death is more because of that than being fired. See the link? Then you can go into your “he didn’t do this, he didn’t do that” diatribe. That would be balanced, wouldn’t you say?

Kimba on 1/24/2012 @ 9:45am EDT Said:

I want to know of one lawyer or CEO who would suggest to their client or an employee of their company to not follow company policy or procedures and “go do their own investigation” regardless of their position in the company. They would not be in business very long…RIP JoePA…there will never be another!

George PS' 63 on 1/24/2012 @ 10:33am EDT Said:

Will the Big Ten Network cover the Memorial Service live?

    BTN.com staff on 1/24/2012 @ 10:42am EDT Said:

    Yes. For those unable to attend the Thursday event, the Big Ten Network, BTN.com and BTN2go will provide live coverage. More details here.

Jim Sumpter on 1/25/2012 @ 12:18pm EDT Said:

Why is there so much focus on JoePa and what he did or did not do than on the real culprit in this story – Tim Curley. Paterno felt that he was not equipped to conduct this investigation so he passed the story on to Curley. Joe could not conduct an investigation – Sandusky did not work for him and it was the university who granted Sandusky access to Penn State, not Paterno. Paterno was the football coach, he said he had never dealt with anything like this before. So how could he be qualified to conduct such an investigation? Curley had far more detailed information, based on McQuery’s testimony, than Joe did, was an Administrative official who had authority over everything Sandusky did on campus (not Paterno) and should have conducted a thorough investigation and called the police, but he did not. Yet everone focuses on Paterno. How short-sighted a view and indication of a lack of understanding of who really was in authority here for this type of situation.

And then people say, well, Joe should have followed up. If he had, what would he have been told by Curley – most likely that it was just Sandusky horsing around, which is what he told the President of the University. So that link would have gone nowhere and certainly would not have prevented further abuse by Sandusky.

Joe did all he could do in his position at the school. It was Curley who determined that no crime was committed and did not call police, it was Curley who made no effort to find who the boy was, it was Curley that did not banish Sandusky from campus anad make sure he stayed off campus. All of this rests on Curley’s back since he was in the best position, as an official of the Administration, to conduct a proper investigation and notify authorities. He failed his responsibiities miserably. Yet almost all of the media attention is focused on Paterno, not Curley.

And then we have the Board who fumbled around the first week or so with the university essentially being leaderless. And, while Joe may have deserved to be removed from his position because of his challenge to the Board more than anything, firing him with a phone call was gutless and unprofessional and is conduct that should not be tolerated by anyone from a Board of Trustees at a major university. I am with Franco – they all should be removed.

Steve on 1/26/2012 @ 12:25am EDT Said:

I think the rest of the country is just starting to see what the Penn State community sees in the Paterno family. The trustees are understanding the response of the people that are Penn State. As an alumnus, I would welcome his name on anything and I think if the Big Ten had any principles, they would put Joe’s name back on the trophy.

    Joe Flintosh on 1/26/2012 @ 11:27pm EDT Said:

    Maybe certain individuals and media will forgo the knee-jerk reaction where decisions were made with little consideration for the facts in the matter. Maybe now some serious thought will be given to what was done in haste and how it may be rectified. And…many kudos to Phil Knight for saying what each of us thought, but we didn’t have the platform nor the notoriety to do so.