Our brethren at CFT have been covering the Joe Paterno situation thoroughly and appropriately, but we can’t overlook the passing of one of the most significant figures in football history, even though Paterno never played or coached pro football.
Fewer than five months ago, Paterno reacted to the death of Raiders owner Al Davis by disclosing that Davis had tried to hire Paterno to be the team’s offensive coordinator when Davis was working as the head coach. (Yes, Davis actually coached the Raiders from 1963 through 1965, giving up the reins at roughly the same time Paterno became head coach at Penn State.)
“When Al got the job [in Oakland], he called me to be his offensive coordinator,” Paterno said in October 2011. “I told Al, ‘You and I would have trouble getting along, because I am smarter than you are.’”
In 1969, the Steelers offered Paterno a job that eventually went to Chuck Noll. At the time, Paterno was making $20,000 per year; the Steelers offered him $70,000. And Paterno passed.
“It was an awful lot of money, a fantastic offer,” Paterno had said. “I’d never dreamed of making that much money. Then I started thinking about what I wanted to do. I had put some things out of whack. I haven’t done the job I set out to do at Penn State.”
Paterno did the job, and in hindsight some will say he stayed too long. But as Brent Musburger told Dan Patrick more than three years ago, Paterno feared that, if he retired, he’d soon die — like Bear Bryant did less than a month after retiring from the University of Alabama.
In the end, that’s what happened. Officially caused by a form of lung cancer that when disclosed was described as not life threatening, Paterno’s life ended fewer than three months after he coached his final game.
The circumstances surrounding the conclusion of his tenure should never be forgotten, primarily to ensure that the events won’t be repeated at Penn State, or elsewhere. But few figures from any sport had the kind of impact, success, and longevity that came from the coaching career of Joe Paterno.
We extend our condolences to his family, friends, assistant coaches, players, and the entire Penn State community.