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Leadership Thought #288 – The Passing of Coach Paterno

January 23, 2012

Penn State announces it has settled all claims with Joe Paterno's family | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

I can’t think of a more tragic way for the Joe Paterno story to end than it has these past few months. Not having any of the inside facts, it’s hard for me to fathom how he handled the Jerry Sandusky scandal.  It goes against everything you would imagine him standing for, but then again, he won’t be the first or last person in life to be betrayed by a friend.  Sadly, in this case, the betrayal and cover-up had devastating consequences for many children. The actions and those around him related to this issue were inexcusable, and the anger in response to it was more than justified.

However, this stain on Coach Paterno’s record should not blot out all the other good things he did in his life, which are considerable.   A few examples worth mentioning:

  • In a day and age when coaches routinely jump ship for more money and/or prestige, he remained steadfast and loyal to Penn State for more than 60 years.
  • He took the student-athlete relationship very seriously and far outdistanced most of his peers in terms of graduation rates and the number of Academic All-Americans.
  • His program was never sanctioned by the NCAA for rules violations, and few other top Division I football programs can say that.
  • His personal philanthropy was impressive.  He donated millions of dollars back to the university. If you’ve ever been to the library, you can hardly open a book without seeing his name as its donor.
  • Everything you read and hear indicates that he kept lifelong relationships with many of his players and remained a positive influence in their lives long after graduation.
  • The many small stories you never hear about his personal generosity towards non-star players, especially those who were injured.
  • He did all the above and ended up with the most wins of any football coach in history.

The world lost a great football coach, leader, and man over the weekend.  I wish it had happened under a less dark cloud.  However, life doesn’t always work that way.  I will always view him as a great (albeit flawed) man who leaves behind an incredible legacy of good works and a tremendous record of accomplishment.

Goodbye, Coach Paterno. May your soul rest in peace.