Saturday, August 7, 2010

Joe Paterno: A Seemingly Ageless Lion of a Man; Penn State Head Coach Forges Ahead and Continues to Inspire

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 12: Head coach Joe Paterno  of the Penn State Nittany Lions talks to recruits along the sideline before the start of their game against the Syracuse Orangemen at Beaver Stadium  September 12, 2009 in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
During the Big Ten Conference Football Coaches’ Media Day this past Monday, Joe Paterno was asked numerous questions about his health and age. The questions about his health mainly stemmed from his recent bout with intestinal flu that forced him to cut back on some of his summer travel and public appearances, while the questions about his age were simply the usual.

Despite his still sharp wit and great sense of humor, the venerable 83-year-old grandfather still faces such questions with regularity, and seems to use such subtle attempts at painting him as “over-the-hill” as opportunities to display his sharp wit, as when he recently said, “What did Mark Twain say? The rumor of my death has been over-exaggerated.”

The questions, though, are rather valid to many, as Paterno will be enjoying his 45th year in coaching this coming season. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of anyone coaching that long, ever.

JoePa has no intention of retiring, either; None, nada, and that actually amazes me.

One woman asked Paterno at a recent press conference I watched (and I’m paraphrasing here), “So, are you going to be coaching Penn State until the day you die?”

JoePa simply treated the question as if it were rhetorical. In his mind I believe he wonders why anyone would believe anything different. Of course he’s going to coach the Nittany Lions till he dies. At this point, he is the Nittany Lions.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald believes he’s even more. As he told ESPN’s Gene Wojceichowski, “Joe Paterno is football…I couldn’t think of it without him. I think every coach in this profession aspires to be Joe Paterno”

He’s had more influence over the Penn State program than most people have had over anything in their lives. He’s also greatly influenced college football as a whole, including numerous coaches. His influence is likely felt even outside the college football ranks. I’m sure there are coaches all over the world from a myriad of sports who have been influenced by his coaching style and his attitude of never, ever giving up.

If I had to list all the accomplishments of Joe Paterno in his time with Penn State, this article would literally be ten pages long. Instead, I’ll simply note that they are nearly unequalled in college sports. Few have done as much as JoePa.

Since he became Penn State’s head coach in 1966 there have been 860 coaching changes among all FBS programs. Not for the Nittany Lions, though. They’ve had no coaching changes whatsoever, and that consistency has helped them become a perennial contender.

Hopefully JoePa’s 45th year at the helm will help guide Penn State to another great season in the tough Big Ten Conference, which also features one the nation’s best teams in the Ohio State Buckeyes. He’ll have his work cut out for him, but I’m sure he’ll relish the challenge.

Simply put, Joe Paterno is one of the most dedicated people you could ever meet. He is well-thought of by all for good reason. He is a good man. He has over 117 children under his care at some time or another. Seventeen of them are his grandchildren. The other hundred?

Why, of course, the Nittany Lions players.

Paterno may be 83, but he acts like he’s only getting younger every day.

A recent film starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson titled The Bucket List dealt with the idea that those who are nearing the end of their lives should have a “Bucket List” on which they list all of the things they’d like to accomplish before they pass. In reference to that film, JoePa had only this to say:

“I’m not looking around for a bucket, I know that.”

You gotta love that. You go, JoePa!