"They ask me what I'd like written about me when I'm gone. I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach."
To put into words the emotion I'm feeling as I write this is impossible. So many thoughts, sayings, and images are at the forefront but none can be put down. Penn State is my school, the only school I wanted to attend coming out of high school. I wasn't a football player, had no desire to walk onto the field trying to earn a spot on the team, but I wanted to attend Penn State.
I knew years before even considering what college to attend who Joe Paterno was. Aside from the football aspect, I knew what he was doing for the university outside of it, making an education his first priority.
For 61 years, that was what he preached. For 16 years, he stayed as an assistant under Rip Engle, then became head coach in 1966, and from that point on made it his goal to make an impact on the school, but do so by preaching an education to be the first priority. If one can't perform in the classroom, they can't perform on the field.
Now, as I sit on my couch watching highlight reels of the Paterno legacy, I can't help but think that some people will think the legacy of Paterno is tarnished because of how his career ended.
Maybe that's a valid point to some extent, but his legacy is not tarnished because of one bad decision.
However, how can you erase years of legacy in just one evening?
November 9, 2011, is a day that Penn State fans, alumni, and students never thought would happen. We all knew at some point Paterno would decide to walk away from his post, but never pictured the idea of getting a phone call saying he was relieved of his duties. Some fans reacted with anger, rioting in a place that is nicknamed "Happy Valley" that ended up causing damage and leading to arrests.
I know Paterno wouldn't want that, and didn't want that. But, that day in essence brought an end not just to a coaching career, but the life of a man who seemed to only live for one reason...Penn State.
Days later, diagnosed with lung cancer. Soon after, admitted to the hospital.
All the while, the lasting image of Penn State was a scandal that many believe shouldn't happen at an institution such as Penn State. Unfortunately, the focus shifted to Paterno rather than focusing on the real story, and ultimately led to a downward spiral for a legendary man.
Many media outlets believe that Paterno passed away because of a broken heart, or had lost his will to live.
To be honest, that's a very accurate statement.
Penn State took away something that Paterno loved to do. It wasn't the fact that he gave to the university, erected a library for students, nor any of the contributions he gave just because he loved Penn State. His passion was coaching, and coaching at Penn State. Numerous times Paterno stated that he loved Penn State, and the State College area. He loved what he did, and loved the impact he had on young men's lives.
Take that love away, and in a way the man had nothing left to live for.
But let's not remember how Paterno died, whether it be a broken heart or because of cancer. Let's not remember that he was terminated amidst a scandal.
Instead, let's remember the man who decided to forego a career in law to become a coach, a man who turned down offers to coach in the NFL to stay at one school. Let's think of the man who went on to win 409 games, coach in 35 bowls, win 24 of those games, and take home two national championships.
Let's remember him as a man that just loved his job.
"I felt that this is where I would be happier, and that I could do more good," Paterno said in 2011. That is the Paterno that everyone, whether a fan of Penn State or not, should remember.
He was a man of integrity, and ultimately he lived up to what his father told him when he first got into coaching.
"Make an impact," his father said. That's exactly what Paterno has done...make an impact, not just as a coach, but as a man.
Rest in peace Coach Paterno, you have made an impact.