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Joe Paterno
Joe Paterno - Penn State - Outback Bowl pep rally 123110 cropped.jpg
Paterno at a 2010 rally
Biographical details
Born (1926-12-21)December 21, 1926
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died January 22, 2012(2012-01-22) (aged 85)
State College, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Playing career
1946–1949 Brown
Position(s) Quarterback, cornerback
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1950–1965 Penn State (assistant)
1966–2011 Penn State
Administrative career (AD unless noted)
1980–1982 Penn State
Head coaching record
Overall 409–136–3
Bowls 24–12–1
Accomplishments and honors
2 National (1982, 1986)
3 Big Ten (1994, 2005, 2009)
Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year (1986)
5× AFCA COY (1968, 1978, 1982, 1986, 2005)
3× Walter Camp COY (1972, 1994, 2005)
3× Eddie Robinson COY (1978, 1982, 1986)
Bobby Dodd COY (1981, 2005)
Paul "Bear" Bryant Award (1986)
3× George Munger Award (1990, 1994, 2005)
Amos Alonzo Stagg Award (2002)
Home Depot Coach of the Year Award (2005)
Sporting News College Football COY (2005)
3× Big Ten Coach of the Year (1994, 2005, 2008)
College Football Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2007 (profile)

Joseph Vincent Paterno (/pəˈtɜːrn/; December 21, 1926 – January 22, 2012), sometimes referred to as JoePa, was an American college football player, athletic director, and coach. He was the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions from 1966 to 2011. With 409 victories, Paterno is the most victorious coach in NCAA FBS history. He recorded his 409th victory on October 29, 2011; his career ended with his dismissal from the team on November 9, 2011. He died 74 days later, of complications from lung cancer.

Paterno was born in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Brown University, where he played football both ways as the quarterback and a cornerback. He had originally planned on going to law school, but he was instead hired in 1950 as an assistant football coach at Penn State. He was persuaded to do this by his college coach Rip Engle, who had taken over as Penn State's head coach. In 1966, Paterno was named as Engle's successor. He soon coached the team to two undefeated regular seasons in 1968 and 1969. The team won two national championships—in 1982 and 1986. Paterno coached five undefeated teams that won major bowl games, and in 2007 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach. During his career, he led the Nittany Lions to 37 bowl appearances with 24 wins while turning down offers to coach National Football League (NFL) teams that included the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots.

Paterno's coaching career ended in 2011, shortly before his death.

Early life

Joseph Vincent Paterno was born December 21, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Florence de LaSalle Cafiero, a homemaker, and Angelo Lafayette Paterno, a law clerk. His family was of Italian ancestry. He spoke with a marked Brooklyn accent throughout his life. In 1944, Paterno graduated from Brooklyn Preparatory School. Six weeks later he was drafted into the Army during World War II. Paterno spent a year in the Army before being discharged in time to start the 1946 school year at Brown University, where his tuition was paid by Busy Arnold.

At Brown, Paterno was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Upsilon chapter). He played quarterback and cornerback for the Bears, and he shares the career record for interceptions (14) with Greg Parker. Paterno graduated as an English literature major in 1950.

Coaching history

Paterno had been accepted to Boston University School of Law, and he had planned to attend before deciding to coach at Penn State. After hearing of his career choice, his father asked, "For God's sake, what did you go to college for?" Paterno joined Rip Engle as an assistant coach at Penn State in 1950; Engle had coached five seasons, 1944–1949, at Brown. Paterno was promoted to associate coach, the top assistant, in June 1964, and when Engle announced his retirement in February 1966, Paterno was named his successor the next day.

Paterno had one Heisman Trophy winner, John Cappelletti, who earned the award in 1973.

In 1995, Paterno apologized for a tirade directed at Rutgers head coach Doug Graber at the end of a nationally televised game.

Penn State football struggled from 2000 to 2004, with an overall 26–33 record in those years and Paterno became the target of criticism from some Penn State faithful. Many in the media attributed Penn State's struggles to Paterno's advancing age. He had no apparent plans to retire, and contingents of fans and alumni began calling for him to step down. Paterno rebuffed all of this and stated he would fulfill his contract until it expired in 2008. Reflecting the growth in Penn State's stature, Beaver Stadium was expanded six times during his tenure, increasing in size from 46,284 in 1966 to 106,572 in 2001.

During a speech in Pittsburgh on May 12, 2005, Paterno announced that he would consider retirement if the 2005 football team had a disappointing season. "If we don't win some games, I've got to get my rear end out of here", Paterno said in a speech at the Duquesne Club. "Simple as that". Penn State finished the season with a record of 11–1 and were champions of the Big Ten in 2005. They defeated Florida State 26–23 in triple overtime in the 2006 Orange Bowl.

The 2009 season was Paterno's 44th as head coach of the Nittany Lions, passing Amos Alonzo Stagg for the most years as head coach at a single institution in Division I.

Paterno's abbreviated 2011 season was his 62nd on the Penn State coaching staff, which gave him the record for most seasons for any football coach at a single university.

Penn State faced a litany of players' off-the-field legal problems, which included 46 Penn State football players facing 163 criminal charges dating back to 2002. A total of 118 charges were dismissed or not proven, according to an ESPN analysis of Pennsylvania court records and reports. In 2008, ESPN questioned the control that Paterno and the university exerted over the Penn State football program. ESPN produced and aired an ESPN feature Outside the Lines that covered the subject. Paterno dismissed the allegations as a "witch hunt", and a radio broadcaster said Paterno chided reporters for asking about problems.

The Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System (SERS) revealed Paterno's salary in November 2007: $512,664. He was paid $490,638 in 2006. "I'm paid well, I'm not overpaid," Paterno said during an interview with reporters Wednesday before the salary disclosure. "I got all the money I need".

Paterno was known for his gameday image — thick glasses, rolled-up dress slacks (by his admission, to save on cleaning bills), white socks and Brooklyn-tinged speech.

Bowls and championships

Joe Paterno runs out with team crop
Paterno jogs out with his team before the start of a game, September 2007

Paterno holds an official NCAA total of 18 bowl victories. He holds the NCAA record for total bowl appearances with 37. He had a bowl record of 24 wins, 12 losses, and 1 tie following a defeat in the 2011 Outback Bowl. Paterno was the first coach with the distinction of having won each of the four major bowls — Rose, Orange, Fiesta, and Sugar — as well as the Cotton Bowl Classic, at least once. Penn State won at least three bowl games in each of the four decades in which Paterno coached the entire decade, from 1970 thru 2009.

Paterno led Penn State to two national championships (1982 and 1986) and five undefeated, untied seasons (1968, 1969, 1973, 1986, and 1994). Four of his unbeaten teams (1968, 1969, 1973, and 1994) won major bowl games and were not awarded a national championship.

Under Paterno, Penn State won the Orange Bowl (1968, 1969, 1973 and 2005), the Cotton Bowl (1972 and 1974), the Fiesta Bowl (1977, 1980, 1981, 1986, 1991, and 1996), the Liberty Bowl (1979), the Sugar Bowl (1982), the Aloha Bowl (1983), the Holiday Bowl (1989), the Citrus Bowl (1993 and 2010), the Rose Bowl (1994), the Outback Bowl (1995, 1998 and 2006) and the Alamo Bowl (1999 and 2007).

After Penn State joined the Big Ten Conference in 1993, the Nittany Lions under Paterno won the Big Ten championship three times (1994, 2005 and 2008). Paterno had 29 finishes in the Top 10 national rankings.

Awards and honors

  • Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year – 1986
  • Amos Alonzo Stagg Coaching Award (United States Sports Academy (USSA)) – 1989, 2001
  • Amos Alonzo Stagg Award (AFCA) – 2002
  • AFCA Coach of the Year – 1968, 1978, 1982, 1986, 2005
  • Associated Press College Football Coach of the Year Award – 2005
  • Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award – 1981, 2005
  • Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year – 1978, 1982, 1986
  • George Munger Award (Div. I Coach of the Year) – 1990, 1994, 2005
  • National Football Foundation Distinguished American Award – 1992
  • National Football Foundation Gold Medal Award – 2006
  • Paul "Bear" Bryant Award – 1986
  • Sporting News College Football Coach of the Year – 2005
  • The Home Depot Coach of the Year Award – 2005
  • Walter Camp Coach of the Year Award – 1972, 1994, 2005
  • Dave McClain Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year – 1994, 2005, 2008
  • NCAA Gerald R. Ford Award – 2011 (revoked by NCAA)

On May 16, 2006, Paterno was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame after the National Football Foundation decided to change its rules and allow any coach over the age of 75 to be eligible for the Hall of Fame instead of having to wait until retirement. However, on November 4, 2006, he was injured during a sideline collision during a game against Wisconsin. As a result of his injuries, he was unable to travel to the induction ceremonies in New York City and the National Football Foundation announced that he would instead be inducted as a part of the Hall of Fame class of 2007. Paterno was inducted on December 4, 2007, and officially enshrined in a ceremony held July 19, 2008.

In 2009, Paterno was named to Sporting News' list of the 50 greatest coaches of all time (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, college basketball, and college football). He is listed in position 13.

In 2010, the Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia established the Joseph V. Paterno Award, to be awarded to the college football coach "who has made a positive impact on his university, his players and his community." The award was later discontinued by the club.

Also in 2010, the Big Ten Conference established the Stagg - Paterno Championship Trophy as the annual trophy to be awarded to the winner of the conference football championship. However, on November 14, 2011, the trophy name was changed to the Stagg Championship Trophy.

Views on college football issues

Paterno in 2003

Paterno was a long-time advocate for some type of college football playoff system. The question was posed to him frequently over the years, as only one of his five undefeated teams was voted national champion. The college football playoff system would become a reality three years after Paterno's exit from the game.

Paterno believed that scholarship college athletes should receive a modest stipend so that they have some spending money. As justification, Paterno pointed out that many scholarship athletes came from poor families and that other students had time to hold down a part-time job, whereas busy practice and conditioning schedules prevented college athletes from working during the school year.

Paterno initially preferred not to play true freshmen, but later in his career he did play redshirts in order to refrain from being at a competitive disadvantage. Some Penn State recruits, like recruits at many other schools, now graduate from high school a semester early so that they can enroll in college during the spring semester and participate in spring practice. Several team members from the recruiting class of 2005, including Justin King, Anthony Scirrotto, and Derrick Williams, received considerable playing time as true freshmen during the 2005–2006 season.

In 2010, Paterno and former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka suggested that concussions and other injuries in the NFL and college football might be reduced if face masks were eliminated.

Penn State's football players were twice recognized for outstanding academic performance by the New America Foundation's Academic Bowl Championship Series while under the leadership of Paterno. The team was ranked number one out of the top 25 ranked BCS teams in 2009 and 2011. The criteria in the rankings include the graduation rate of the team as compared to the rest of university, the difference between the graduation rate of African-American players and the rest of the squad as well as the same statistics for the rest of the students at Penn State, and the graduation rate differences between the African American players and students.

Officiating and instant replay

In 2002, 76-year-old Paterno chased down referee Dick Honig in a dead sprint following a 42–35 overtime home loss to Iowa. Paterno saw Tony Johnson catch a pass for a first down with both feet in bounds on the stadium's video replay board, but the play was ruled an incompletion. This being after Penn State had rallied from a 35–13 deficit with 9 minutes left in the game to tie the score at 35, and were driving on their first possession in overtime (a touchdown would have tied the game at 42). Penn State failed on fourth down and Iowa held on for the win.

Just weeks later, in the final minute of the Michigan game, the same wide receiver, Johnson, made a catch that would have given Penn State a first down and put them in range for a game-winning field goal. Although Johnson was ruled out of bounds, replays clearly showed that Johnson had both feet in bounds and the catch should have been ruled complete.

In 2004, the Big Ten Conference became the first college football conference to adopt a form of instant replay. The previous two incidents, along with Paterno's public objections, and the Big Ten's Clockgate controversy, are often cited as catalysts for its adoption. Within the next year, almost all of the Division I-A conferences adopted a form of instant replay based on the Big Ten model.

Outside of football

Philanthropy and education

Pattee Mall PSU
The East wing of the Pattee Library (center) is connected to the Paterno Library (to right, not seen) at Penn State University.

After the announcement of his appointment as head coach in 1966, Paterno set out to conduct what he called a "Grand Experiment" in melding athletics and academics in the collegiate environment, an idea that he had learned during his years at Brown. As a result, Penn State's players have consistently demonstrated above-average academic success compared to Division I-A schools nationwide. According to the NCAA's 2008 Graduation Rates Report, Penn State's four-year Graduation Success Rate of 78% easily exceeds the 67% Division I average, second to only Northwestern among Big Ten institutions. In 2011, Penn State football players had an 80% graduation rate and showed no achievement gap between its black and white players, which is extremely rare for Division I football teams. The New American Foundation ranked Penn State No. 1 in its 2011 Academic Bowl Championship Series.

Paterno was also renowned for his charitable contributions to academics at Penn State. He and his wife Sue have contributed over $4 million towards various departments and colleges, including support for the Penn State All-Sports Museum, which opened in 2002, and the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, which opened in 2003. After helping raise over $13.5 million in funds for the 1997 expansion of Pattee Library, the university named the expansion Paterno Library in their honor.

In 2007, former player Franco Harris and his company R Super Foods honored Paterno for his contributions to Penn State by featuring his story and picture on boxes of Super Donuts and Super Buns in Central PA. A portion of the sales will be donated to an endowment fund for the university library that bears his name.

Paterno also attended the annual Penn State Dance Marathon, a popular weekend-long charity event and the largest student-run philanthropy in the world (it raised over $10 million in 2012), every year to raise money for kids with cancer.

Political interests

Joe Paterno wishes good luck to opponent
Paterno shakes hands with FIU Coach Mario Cristobal in September 2007.

Paterno was a political conservative and a personal friend of President George H. W. Bush. He campaigned for Bush door-to-door in the 1988 New Hampshire primary, and seconded his nomination at the Republican National Convention. Paterno was also a close friend of President Gerald R. Ford, and introduced President George W. Bush at a campaign rally before the 2004 presidential election. Before the 1974 Pennsylvania gubernatorial election, a group of Pennsylvania Republican Party leaders briefly considered Paterno for Andrew Lewis' ticket as the candidate for lieutenant governor.

In 2004, his son Scott Paterno, an attorney, won the Republican primary for Pennsylvania's 17th congressional district but lost in the November general election to Democratic incumbent Tim Holden. "I brought my kids up to think for themselves since day one," Joe Paterno said in 2008. "I got a son who's a Republican, who ran for Congress, Scott. I'm a Republican. I've got a son, Jay, who's for Obama. I've got a daughter, who I'm pretty sure she's going to be for Hillary [Clinton]. So God bless America."

Personal life

While serving as an assistant coach, Paterno met freshman coed Suzanne Pohland at the campus library; she was a Latrobe native 13 years his junior and an English literature honors student. They married in 1962, the year she graduated. They had five children: Diana, Joseph Jr. "Jay", Mary Kay, David, and Scott. All of their children are Penn State graduates, and Jay Paterno was the quarterbacks coach at Penn State until his departure following the hiring of new head coach Bill O'Brien on January 7, 2012. The Paternos had 17 grandchildren.

Paterno was a longtime summer resident of Avalon, New Jersey.

Paterno and his wife co-authored the children's book We Are Penn State!, which takes place during a typical Penn State homecoming weekend.

Deteriorating health and death

Joe Paterno memorial vigil
Thousands of Penn State students and faculty attend a candlelight vigil for Paterno at Old Main on his day of death, January 22, 2012.

In November 2006, Paterno was involved in a sideline collision during a game against Wisconsin. He was unable to avoid the play and was struck in the knee by Badgers linebacker DeAndre Levy's helmet. Paterno, then 79 years old, suffered a fractured shin bone and damage to knee ligaments. He coached the 2007 Outback Bowl from the press box before making a full recovery.

In November 2008, Paterno had successful hip replacement surgery after spraining his leg while trying to demonstrate onside kicks during a practice session. While recovering, he coached the remainder of the season and the 2009 Rose Bowl from the press box. After sustaining these injuries, he made use of a golf cart to move around the field during practices.

Paterno was injured again in August 2011, after colliding with a player during practice. He sustained hairline fractures to his hip and shoulder. No surgery was required, but Paterno began the 2011 regular season schedule in a wheelchair.

On November 18, 2011, just nine days after his dismissal from Penn State, Paterno's son Scott reported that his father had a treatable form of lung cancer. On January 13, 2012, Paterno was hospitalized in State College for complications relating to his cancer treatment, and he remained there until his death nine days later on January 22, 2012; his death came 74 days after his dismissal from Penn State. His death resulted in tributes from prominent leaders in the U.S., including former President George H. W. Bush, who called Paterno "an outstanding American who was respected not only on the field of play but in life generally—and he was, without a doubt, a true icon in the world of sports." Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said of Paterno, "His legacy as the winningest coach in major college football and his generosity to Penn State as an institution and to his players, stand as monuments to his life. ... His place in our state's history is secure." On January 23, Corbett ordered all state flags to be lowered to half staff in Paterno's honor. At the time of his death, Penn State was still finalizing Paterno's retirement package.

Paterno's funeral was held in State College on January 25, 2012. About 750 mourners attended the private ceremony, after which thousands of mourners lined the route of the funeral procession. Paterno was buried in Spring Creek Presbyterian Cemetery just outside the town. Approximately 12,000 people attended a public memorial service that was held at the Bryce Jordan Center on January 26, 2012.

Head coaching record

At the time of his death, Paterno had accumulated a record of 409 wins, 136 losses, and 3 ties, making him the most victorious coach in FBS NCAA football history.

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs Coaches# AP°
Penn State Nittany Lions (NCAA University Division / Division I / Division I-A independent) (1966–1992)
1966 Penn State 5–5
1967 Penn State 8–2–1 T Gator 11 10
1968 Penn State 11–0 W Orange 3 2
1969 Penn State 11–0 W Orange 2 2
1970 Penn State 7–3 19 18
1971 Penn State 11–1 W Cotton 11 5
1972 Penn State 10–2 L Sugar 8 10
1973 Penn State 12–0 W Orange 5 5
1974 Penn State 10–2 W Cotton 7 7
1975 Penn State 9–3 L Sugar 10 10
1976 Penn State 7–5 L Gator
1977 Penn State 11–1 W Fiesta 4 5
1978 Penn State 11–1 L Sugar 4 4
1979 Penn State 8–4 W Liberty 18 20
1980 Penn State 10–2 W Fiesta 8 8
1981 Penn State 10–2 W Fiesta 3 3
1982 Penn State 11–1 W Sugar 1 1
1983 Penn State 8–4–1 W Aloha 17
1984 Penn State 6–5
1985 Penn State 11–1 L Orange 3 3
1986 Penn State 12–0 W Fiesta 1 1
1987 Penn State 8–4 L Florida Citrus
1988 Penn State 5–6
1989 Penn State 8–3–1 W Holiday 14 15
1990 Penn State 9–3 L Blockbuster 10 11
1991 Penn State 11–2 W Fiesta 3 3
1992 Penn State 7–5 L Blockbuster 24
Penn State Nittany Lions (Big Ten Conference) (1993–2011)
1993 Penn State 10–2 6–2 3rd W Florida Citrus 7 8
1994 Penn State 12–0 8–0 1st W Rose 2 2
1995 Penn State 9–3 5–3 T–3rd W Outback 12 13
1996 Penn State 11–2 6–2 T–3rd W Fiesta 7 7
1997 Penn State 9–3 6–2 T–2nd L Florida Citrus 17 16
1998 Penn State 9–3 5–3 5th W Outback 15 17
1999 Penn State 10–3 5–3 T–4th W Alamo 11 11
2000 Penn State 5–7 4–4 T–6th
2001 Penn State 5–6 4–4 T–4th
2002 Penn State 9–4 5–3 4th L Capital One 15 16
2003 Penn State 3–9 1–7 T–8th
2004 Penn State 4–7 2–6 9th
2005 Penn State 11–1 7–1 T–1st W Orange 3 3
2006 Penn State 9–4 5–3 T–4th W Outback 25 24
2007 Penn State 9–4 4–4 T–5th W Alamo 25
2008 Penn State 11–2 7–1 T–1st L Rose 8 8
2009 Penn State 11–2 6–2 T–2nd W Capital One 8 9
2010 Penn State 7–6 4–4 T–4th L Outback
2011 Penn State 8–1 5–0 (Leaders) 12 12
Penn State: 409–136–3 95–54
Total: 409–136–3
      National championship         Conference title         Conference division title or championship game berth
  • Indicates Bowl Coalition, Bowl Alliance or BCS bowl.
  • #Rankings from final Coaches Poll.
  • °Rankings from final AP Poll.

Coaching tree

Assistant coaches under Paterno that became NFL or NCAA head coaches:

  • Joe McMullen: San Jose State (1969-1970)
  • George Welsh: Navy (1973-1981), Virginia (1982-2000)
  • Jim Weaver: Villanova (1974, acting)
  • George Landis: Bloomsburg Huskies football (1982-1985), Bucknell (1986-1988)
  • Dick Anderson: Rutgers (1984-1989)
  • John Rosenberg: Brown (1984-1989)
  • Bob Tucker: Wooster (1985-1994)
  • Rip Scherer: James Madison (1991-1994), Memphis (1995-2000)
  • Bill Bowes: New Hampshire (1992-1998)
  • Jim Caldwell: Wake Forest (1993-2000), Indianapolis Colts (2009-2011), Detroit Lions (2014-2017)
  • Greg Gattuso: Duquesne (1993–2004), Albany (2014–present)
  • Ron Dickerson: Temple (1993-1997), Alabama State (1998-1999), Lambuth (2010)
  • Craig Cirbus: Buffalo (1995-2000)
  • Paul Shaffner: Glenville State (2000-2003), Buffalo State (2004-2008)
  • Greg Schiano: Rutgers (2001–2011, 2020–present), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012–2013)
  • Dave Opfar: Sain Francis (2002-2009)
  • Al Golden: Temple (2006-2010), Miami (2011-2015)
  • Frank Spaziani: Boston College Eagles (2009-2012)
  • Darryl Bullock: North Carolina Central (2010, interim)
  • Tom Bradley: Penn State (2011, interim)
  • Jamie Barresi: Ottawa (2013-2019)
  • Kenny Carter: Delaware State (2015-2017)
  • Earnest Wilson: Savannah State (2013-2015), Elizabeth City (2015-2016)
  • Matt Rhule: Temple (2013–2016), Baylor (2017–2019), Carolina Panthers (2020–2022), Nebraska (2023–present)
  • Larry Johnson: Ohio State (2021, acting)
  • Paul Alexander: Dresden Monarchs (2023)

Players under Paterno that became NFL or NCAA head coaches:

  • Al Golden: Temple (2006-2010), Miami (2011-2015)
  • Mike Munchak: Tennessee Titans (2011-2013)
  • Paul Pasqualoni: Connecticut (2011-2013)
  • Matt Rhule: Temple (2013–2016), Baylor (2017–2019), Carolina Panthers (2020–2022), Nebraska (2023–present)

Players under Paterno that became general managers or executives in the NFL:

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Joe Paterno para niños

  • List of college football coaches with 200 wins
  • List of college football coaches with 30 seasons
  • List of College Football Hall of Fame inductees (coaches)
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