Joe Paterno’s legacy may be divided between those who view him as a college football legend and those who felt he could have done more to stop the alleged child abuse perpetrated by former assistant Jerry Sandusky. But they can both agree on one thing: There will never be another one like him.
“This was an incomparable life,’’ his son, Jay Paterno, told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Tuesday. “He really lived up to the values that he espoused.’’
“JoePa,’’ who died of lung cancer at age 85 Sunday, won an NCAA football-record 409 games, leading the Nittany Lions to a pair of national championships and five undefeated seasons while sending more than 250 of his players to the NFL. That legacy was scarred when Paterno was fired in November in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal involving Sandusky, his former veteran defensive coordinator. Paterno came under scrutiny for having been informed of Sandusky’s behavior by an assistant and passing it up the chain of command rather than doing more to ensure that Sandusky would not be allowed to harm other children.
Jay Paterno was his father’s quarterback coach and an intimate witness to the strain on the man that even Jay and his siblings simply called “Joe.’’ His father died less than three months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
“Through the last couple months you’ve gotten a chance to see his true character in terms of even with all the things that were happening to him, it was never a situation where he sat around and felt bad for himself,’’ Paterno said. “He was very positive with us about the direction he wanted the rest of his life to go and how he wanted to continue to build Penn State and to make sure justice was done for the victims involved. That really didn’t take that much of a toll on him because he’s just such a strong individual.’’
Paterno never held a grudge against the university that fired him, according to another of Joe's five children, Scott.
“Even at the end when it was clear that he passed a line of no return, it was never a moment of bitterness,’’ Scott Paterno told the Associated Press. “It was never a moment of fear. He was serenely calm, even right up to the end.''
Paterno was focused on more than just winning games. His “Grand Experiment’’ was an expectation that his players could uphold high academic and moral standards while still being successful on the field at a big-time football program. His teams produced 13 Academic All-Americans in the last five seasons alone and had an 85 percent graduation rate in 2009.
“I think one of the great things about my dad has been his integrity, his loyalty and his fairness,’’ Jay said. “I hope that when (his) youngest grandchild gets old enough to understand his career as a coach, an educator, a mentor was so much more than winning games.’’
Despite the scandal, Jay Paterno said his father never lost the character that defined him.
“One thing Joe always told us is that there’s a difference between success and excellence,’’ Paterno said. “Success is how people perceive you, but excellence is something very personal. It’s a standard you uphold and throughout his entire life he’s always done what he believed was right given the facts that he had in front of him at the time. I don’t think there’s any question in his mind that he didn’t lose any sense of excellence. That’s something he held very dear to himself.’’