NEW CASTLE — “It’s sad that with all the things Joe Paterno did, most will remember him for the one thing he didn’t do.” — Billy Miller
I’ve been asked the same question countless times since Joseph Vincent Paterno died on Sunday.
“So, how do you feel about JoePa?”
My honest answer: I don’t know.
I really don’t.
On one hand, I loved the guy.
Everything from the Coke bottle glasses to the rolled-up khakis to the high-pitched voice. He was blue and white, plain and simple, and that was good enough for me.
He was humble, generous and compassionate. I’ve heard story after story about how he reached out to those in need, welcomed friends and strangers alike into his home, and kept his players focused on their true mission at Penn State University — to earn a degree.
Furthermore, there’s no arguing that Joe Paterno was a fantastic football coach. I won’t bore you with my observations; I’ll just throw out some numbers and let you make the call.
409: Career victories (all at Penn State, the most in Division I history)
247: Players drafted into NFL
78: First-team All-Americans
49: Academic All-Americans
37: Bowl appearances (all-time record)
33: First-round selections in the NFL Draft
25: Appearances in New Year's Day bowl games
24: Bowl victories (all-time record); 24-12-1 overall
23: Finishes in the national top 10
7: Undefeated regular seasons
6: Fiesta Bowl victories (Paterno never lost the game)
5: Undefeated, untied seasons (1968, 1969, 1973, 1986 and 1994)
3: Big Ten titles (1994, 2005 and 2008)
2: National championships (1982 and 1986)
1: Heisman Trophy winners (Cappelletti)
It’s apparent, Joe knew football.
But when a young graduate assistant shared with him the startling news that one of his former trusted coaches had committed an unspeakable act against a child, Joe didn’t know what to do.
And just a few short months ago, Joe had no idea that everything he had worked for over the past half century would be taken away — with a brief, but gut-wrenching phone call.
“You’ve been fired, effective immediately.”
Not because of something he did. No, in 46 years as head coach, the Nittany Lions never had a recruiting violation.
It was because of something he didn’t do.
An error of omission. And coaches HATE those.
They would much rather have you attempt SOMETHING to boost your team’s chances of victory, rather than stand around and do nothing.
In his 1989 biography, “By the Book,” Joe called taking action a cornerstone of building a great football program.
“First, it takes vision and determination. It takes belief in ourselves. It takes a plan. It takes concentration. And it takes the daily DOING of it.”
Here’s another gem from the book.
“Listening to your heart and going with it is a winning principle.”
By his own admission, Joe didn’t.
“I wish I had done more.”
So do we, Joe. So do we.
But if you have the ability to read this sentence, you still have time. You still have a chance to do the “one thing” you’ve always wished you would have done.
You can make that phone call. You can repair that relationship. You can put down the cigarette. You can make the doctor’s appointment. You can stop with the affair.
And maybe, just maybe, you can save a child from harm.
So, what is it? What is YOUR one thing that needs to be done?
If you loved Joe and all he stood for, do it in his honor. If you’re angry with him because you believe he didn’t act when it counted most, then don’t be a hypocrite. Show others how it’s supposed to be done.
“Believe deep down in your heart that you’re destined to do great things,” Paterno often said.
And if we could turn back the clock to 2002 and give him another shot, I believe Joe would.
But it’s our turn now.