EDITOR'S NOTE: Back in May of 1987, UPI writer Thomas Ferraro penned an article on Joe Paterno entitled "IN THE WORLD OF COLLEGE ATHLETICS . . . :
HE'S NOT AN AVERAGE JOE : Paterno Wants to Win--and Usually Does--but
What Sets Him Apart From Many Football Coaches Is That He Won't Put
Game Ahead of Academics, Integrity.
Here is that article in its entirety.
PARK, Pa. — Joe Paterno shifts uncomfortably on the couch of his office
at Penn State University and makes a confession about his
"It scares the heck out of me," booms the hallowed football coach. "Because I know I'm not that clean. Nobody is that clean."
don't want to appear to be any more than I am," says Paterno, now
speaking in a near whisper. "And that's a good, hard-working coach who
is a decent guy, a family guy, who doesn't want to cheat.""I lose
my temper sometimes. I'm not an easy-going guy when it comes to getting
a football team ready. I'm tough on the kids. I'm tough on my staff."
60, Joseph Vincent Paterno, self-described everyman, is widely
perceived to be the saint in black cleats of the often seamy world of
college sports.With a big nose, a Brooklyn accent and glasses as
thick as a Coca-Cola bottle, the Ivy League-educated Paterno is also one
of the most revered college coaches since Notre Dame's fabled Knute
This fall, Paterno will become the first major college
coach to post 200 career victories, with a lifetime winning percentage
of more than 80 percent. More important to the reputation of the game,
he will also boast a graduation rate by his players of more than 80
Finding a Paterno critic can be as tough as spotting a
hole in Penn State's defense. But there are a few -- some disgruntled
ex-players, rival coaches, a doubting educator.They say that
although Paterno preaches balancing academics and athletics, he is
basically no different than most big-time college coaches -- an
egotistical zealot with a whistle, dedicated to winning games and
Paterno, now getting ready for his 22nd season
as Penn State's head football coach, says he's no saint, but insists
he's no phony, either."We are trying to win football games ...
but I tell the kids 'enjoy yourself. There is much besides football.' I
want them to learn art, literature and music and all the other things
college has to offer."
While stories pop up about ex-jocks who
can't read more than a comic book, Paterno's commandos move on to become
teachers, doctors, lawyers, corporate chiefs. Ninety-nine have become
pro football players.
Four years ago, Paterno helped head a
national campaign to increase academic standards for college athletes,
and now wants them raised again. "We're just kidding ourselves if we
think we can bring kids in with minimal credentials and have them play
football or basketball and get a meaningful education," Paterno says.
speaks out against exploitation of student-athletes, enjoys opera,
scolds players who cuss and exhorts fellow faculty members to make their
academic departments "No. 1."Mounted in Paterno's office is a quote from poet Robert Browning: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp."Paterno
gets involved with his community, Penn State, a school with 33,000
Last year, he personally donated $100,000 to a library fund
and another $50,000 to a minority-student scholarship fund.The coach is compassionate. But he can be riled.In
1969, he left word for President Richard Nixon -- after Nixon
proclaimed Texas to be national champs and then offered a "special"
plaque to Penn State for having a 21-game winning streak -- to "shove
In January, Paterno was named "Sportsman of the Year" by
Sports Illustrated, which wrote: "Joe Paterno is a beacon of integrity
-- and he knows how to win."A week later, Paterno orchestrated a
14-10 upset of No. 1-ranked Miami in the Fiesta Bowl for his second
national championship, as decreed by the nation's wire services.
the title once before, in 1982."To win a national championship is
fine," says Paterno.
"That's what you strive for. But striving is
what's fun -- the planning, the preparation, the excitement, the tension
of getting ready and playing.""After it's over, it's over," he shrugs. "You won. So you won.""I go back to (Thomas) Aquinas. 'Anticipation is the greater joy."'
Make no mistake about it, though. Joe Paterno doesn't like to lose.
one point in 1984, when his team sputtered to 6-5, Paterno called his
players "a bunch of babies." The next season, Penn State was within one
victory of a national title when they fell to Oklahoma, 25-10, in the
Says Paterno, "That really wasn't a tough loss to take because that squad did as well as it could."Along
with being one of the most popular people in Pennsylvania, Paterno is
also one of the best paid.
He's estimated to earn well upwards of
$100,000 a year, including salary, endorsements and speaking fees. He
also holds tenure on the faculty, a rarity in any big-time college
sport."I make good money -- and I think I should," Paterno says.
he leads a relatively austere life.
He drives a red Ford Tempo and,
with his wife of 26 years, Sue, a homemaker, in a modest house three
blocks off the Penn State campus."I'd be embarrassed to drive a
Cadillac," says Paterno. "My wife would be, too. We wouldn't be
comfortable having a maid. We just don't need a lot of things."
1973, the New England Patriots offered Paterno $1.3 million to coach
their National Football League team. Penn State students, alumni and
fans mailed Paterno postcards that read: "Joe, Don't Go Pro."
Neighborhood children stood outside his house and chanted the same plea.Joe stayed."Here,
I have an opportunity to affect the lives of a lot of young people --
and not just on my football team," he said. "I'm kidding myself that
that would be true at the professional level."
At Penn State, the
fit, 5-foot-10, 165-pound Paterno, a name that means "fatherly" in
Italian, is the Big Man on Campus. He is affectionately known as "Jo
Pa."He walks to work, goes to church on Sunday and at least once a
year likes to hold a "bull session" in a campus dormitory on any topic
-- football, politics, life.
One of the most popular items in
campus book stores is a life-sized cardboard likeness of Paterno. It
sells for $24.95. The money goes to a Penn State library fund -- named
Paterno was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., four days before
Christmas in 1926, as the first of four children of Angelo and Florence
Paterno, an Italian-American couple of modest means who demanded that
their youngsters hit the books.Angelo Paterno worked his way
through law school during the Depression and became a clerk in an
appeals court, where young Joe spent many days watching lawyers match
wits and judges preside.
Joe Paterno planned to become an
attorney, but after he graduated from Brown University in 1950, where he
majored in English literature and played quarterback, he switched to
football. He became an assistant coach at Penn State.
loved the law, but he never leaned on me. He wanted me to do whatever I
wanted to do. My mother said, 'Why did you go to college? After all
those years, you're just going to coach.' But after my name started to
appear in the papers she thought it was all right."Paterno, the father of five children -- two girls, three boys -- says: "I have no regrets."
he retains a breadth of cultural interests. "I like music. I have a
lousy ear and I can't sing. But I really like classical music. I like
opera. In fact, 'Carmen' was on last night, on educational TV," he said,
and he watched it."I like to read just about anything," Paterno
"I always liked classics. Now, I'm going back to (the Roman
poet) Virgil (and) I just finished a book on Napoleon."Dennis
Booher, as a Penn State graduate student in 1985, profiled Paterno for
his doctoral degree in physical education. It took him two years and 100
He wrote:"Joe Paterno is much like a corporate
executive operating a large business. He makes decisions based on what's
best for the business, not necessarily the individual. He ... demands
total accountability in academics and athletics.... There is no room for
the lazy or the weak."
Booher found most ex-players
overwhelmingly supportive of Paterno, hailing him as a supreme
motivator. He also noted, though, that some scorn their old coach as a
ranting ogre."He's a disciplinarian, a driver, a pusher, he yells
at players," Booher says.
"But I believe Joe Paterno is what he says he
is. He wants his players to do as well as they can. That's his thesis
on life."Booher, now athletic director at the Penn State campus
in Schuylkill, Pa., says Paterno's pious image was developed by the
media and the university. "Paterno says he objects. But I doubt he
objects that much. He's human."
Paterno has been a crusader,
championing reforms to correct problems ranging from uneducated
"student-athletes" to recruiting scandals -- like the one recently made
public at Southern Methodist University, where boosters, with the
approval of top school officials, made under-the-table payments to
Paterno has plenty to say on a variety of topics
"It's unbelievable to think that kind of corruption came right from the
top of the power structure. The NCAA did what it had to do" in
canceling SMU's 1988 football season.
--Drug testing: "I'm for
drug testing, even though we're violating some of the rights (against
self-incrimination) that we are all entitled to. But if I'm going to be
consistent with doing what I think is best for young people, I should
know if they're horsing around with any kind of drug."
players: "I think part of their scholarship should be some spending
money, $50 to $60 a month. If the NCAA is going to prohibit them from
holding a job during the school year, let's give them some money so they
can be part of the mainstream -- so they can buy a new shirt, a cup of
--Boosters: "You've got to control them. I tell them, 'I
want your money, but I don't want your two cents. Keep your nose out of
this program .... If I find out you're horsing around, you won't get a
ticket into the stadium."'
--NCAA rules: "Rewrite the rulebook.
Let's define a student-athlete, let's say what we want in recruiting.
The rulebook was written 40 years ago. A lot of them don't make any
sense. There are so many little rules that no one knows them all.""I
know if somebody came up here and went right through our program with a
fine-tooth comb they are going to probably find something that's not
right. I was going to throw a party for seniors and their fathers. But I
couldn't. It would have been extra benefits."
baseball: "I think it's foolish. You sit in the stands and you hear
somebody say, 'Hey, this kid is a winner. Hey, this kid is a loser.'
Hey, this kid is an 11- or 12-year-old kid. Let kids be kids."
sports: "When Title IX first came in (in 1972, pressuring schools to
provide equal sports opportunities for women) I was a little leery. I
wondered, 'Was this just some sort of fad.'"When I became (Penn State) athletic director (1980 to 1982), I realized how much the women want to play. I supported them.""One
woman coach who I hired came in and said, 'I'm entitled to this under
Title IX. Unless I get it, I'm going to bring up some action."'"I
said, 'Do me a favor. Go back outside. Forget you ever heard of Title
IX. Then come back in and tell me what you need. She went outside, came
back in and said, 'This is what I need.' I said, 'You're going to get
it. Not because of Title IX ... but because you deserve it, your kids
--State of college sports: "We've gone through a very
tough 12, 15, 18 years. We had academic scandals on the West Coast. We
had kids not going to class. The integrity of institutions was literally
bruised."But then all of a sudden we did some soul searching. We
raised academic standards, university presidents said 'enough is
enough.' We've made great strides.""I'd have given us a 'D' 15
years ago and probably a 'C-minus' seven years ago. Now, we're probably
up to a 'B' or a 'B-minus.' If the President's Commission (of the NCAA)
stays active (in reforms) we can get up to an 'A."'
When Joe Paterno speaks, people react.
1983, Paterno spearheaded a campaign to set minimum academic standards
that high school students must meet to be eligible for an athletic
scholarship.The measure, then opposed as racist by some blacks,
proposed that students be required to have at least a 2.0 average -- out
of a possible 4.0 -- and get a combined Scholastic Aptitude Test score
of at least 700 out of a possible 1,600.
At an NCAA convention in San Diego, Paterno rose in support of the measure."I
hope you will bear with me a little bit while I talk to you," Paterno
began. "I go back to a time when they asked (Knute) Rockne which was the
best team. He said, 'I don't know ... I will find out ... when I find
out how many doctors, lawyers and good husbands and good citizens have
come off every one of them.'"I am really surprised that so many
black leaders have gotten up here and kind of sold their young people
down the river.... If it takes 700 in the SAT to compete, and we give
them time to be prepared, they will be prepared."
"We have raped a
generation-and-a-half of young black athletes. We have taken kids and
sold them on bouncing a ball and running with the football and that
being able to do certain things athletically was going to be an end in
itself. We cannot afford to do that to another generation."
The delegates approved the measure, which took effect last fall.On
Jan. 30, 1983, a few weeks after Penn State won its first national
football championship, Paterno went before the university's board of
trustees and urged them to make the well-respected institution No. 1
"We have some excellent departments .... We also
have some departments that are absolutely lousy and we have lazy profs
who are only concerned with tenure and only concerned with getting
tenure for some of their mediocre colleagues."
The words bruised egos -- and contributed to efforts to better Penn State.Last
February, a month after Penn State won its second championship,
President Reagan invited Paterno and his team to the White House.
think he's one of the great coaches ever in college sports," Reagan
said. "... he's never forgotten that, first and foremost, he's a teacher
who's preparing his students not just for the season, but for life."
Such comments make John Swinton, an instructor in Penn State's department of hotel and restaurant management, cringe."Mr.
Paterno's main goal is to operate a business," charges Swinton, a
critic of all intercollegiate athletics. "I believe that big-time
football is incompatible with a university mission."
contends that Penn State players, despite statements to the contrary by
the university, are exploited on the field and given favorable treatment
in the classroom.Swinton could not name another public critic of
Paterno on campus.
But that doesn't deter him. One of his biggest
gripes is that the football program, he says, uses bloated figures in
claiming a graduation rate of 84 percent.The College Football
Association said that if all schools calculated graduation rates the way
Penn State does, counting only those players who complete four years of
athletic eligibility, the average graduation rate for all schools would
still be only about 70 percent.
Penn State says its other
difference in the classroom is that players aren't fed easy "gut"
courses. All but two of the 30 seniors on the roster last fall are
expected to get degrees by this spring.Over the years, players have had plenty to say about Paterno.
Roy Blount Jr.'s 1973 book on the 1973 Pittsburgh Steelers, "About
Three Bricks Shy of a Load," Jack Ham, a 1970 All-America linebacker,
says, "All of us disliked Paterno. It made us closer. He was very cold
to his players, very impersonal."
"I'd like to see him say that to
Mr. Paterno's face," said Bruce Bannon, a 1973 All-America at Penn
State who played two years with the Miami Dolphins."Joe Paterno's
first job is to win games, but I think he does his best to help
players," Bannon said.
"He really does emphasize academics. There's not
many coaches who do."Bannon graduated with honors in geologic
science and says Paterno gave him a break that few coaches would,
letting him miss spring practice for a geology field trip.
marketing manager of an aerospace firm in El Cajon, Calif.Bob
White, a linebacker on the football team and a criminal justice major in
the classroom, graduated from Penn State in January.
He is working as a
clerk in a video store and awaiting a likely career in pro football.Five
years ago, Paterno offered White, then a high school student with a "C"
average, a scholarship. But only if he would first read a dozen books,
assigned by Paterno's wife, and file a weekly book report.
Paterno is a 'good guy.' Not the type to put his arm around you, not
the type who joke with you, but the type who helps you, forces you, to
develop to your fullest potential," says White.
A few months after
Paul Gabel graduated from Penn State in 1974, he told an interviewer:
"What bugged me most about him (Paterno) was being belittled in front of
your peers."Gabel related a story about when he collapsed from
what may have been an asthmatic attack during a summer practice.
came to, everybody was around me and I could hear Paterno yelling and
screaming, 'Get up, get up, you're a baby."'Today, Gabel, an
assistant warden in the West Virginia State Penitentiary, has softened.
"Joe was tough. He would yell at players. But more chances that not, he
"My attitude toward Joe changed in the past seven or
eight years -- after I had my own kids and I began to understand what he
was trying to do for us." As for his collapse on the field, Gabel now
says, "Joe probably wasn't aware of what happened to me."
Being loved, says Paterno, is not what he's aiming for."I've
never worried about whether the players like me. You worry about being
liked and you'll get into trouble ... I wasn't buddy-buddy with my own
kids."I want to be tough, but I want to have a little compassion,
too. I may have been too tough on some kids, but I don't think I ever
put winning a football game ahead of what was best for a kid."
In recruiting players, Paterno considers athletics, academics and character."If
I don't like a kid, I don't recruit him. We had a kid come up here, a
hot shot from another state. All he did was talk about himself, his
records. I told the coaches, 'Forget him. We can't put up with that
'In the early 1960s, there was a high school player in
Beaver Falls, Pa., who became one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. His
name was Joe Namath. Paterno didn't recruit him. "Joe is a bright guy,
but he wasn't what you would call a great high school student," Paterno
says.Paterno's players are generally solid students -- and solid citizen-types.
1979 there was a major aberration. Some of his players ran into trouble
with the law on charges from rape and burglary to drunken driving and
fist fights. Three starters were declared academically ineligible.
a team meeting that December, players complained to Paterno that they
could not come to him because he seemed too busy, even unsympathetic."I
probably did not like them for a while and it showed," Paterno later
"It was embarrassing and disappointing. " Now, Paterno says, "I
think those kids did me favor. And I haven't forgotten it. If I think we
have a problem I seek out the kids and we try to handle it. You've got
to know kids better nowadays."
Paterno spent much of last winter
getting to know potential recruits and delivering nearly a speech a week
to fund-raisers. He also gave about a dozen talks for a fee to private
firms. On March 28, he focused on football. Twenty-days of spring
.Just before he laced up his cleats, rolled up the
cuffs of his slacks and led his team in an afternoon practice session,
Paterno stopped to explain his love of his job."You are working
with young people, you have a chance to influence a lot of lives and you
are creating an element of happiness for a lot of people."
come up from all over on Saturday to watch the game. What art does for
one person -- dancing or opera -- sport does for other people."The
Paterno era is drawing to a close. He plans to leave coaching in five
years, at age 65.
His youngest child will then be in college."I don't want to retire," he said. "I want to be young enough to change careers."Paterno
has been mentioned over the years as a possible candidate for statewide
In 1980, he helped George Bush defeat Ronald Reagan in the
Pennsylvania presidential primary.Paterno, a Republican, says he
has no plans to run for office. But says he might be interested in
working on the state level for a politician.It's nearly noon on a day in early April and Joe Paterno is pacing in his office.
pumped up. He's talking about a White House dinner he and his wife
attended the previous night in honor of French Prime Minister Jacques
Chirac."The president had me at his own table. I sat there with
Julie Nixon Eisenhower, the prime minister's wife, the president of
IT&T. My wife sat at (White House chief of staff) Howard Baker's
table, with John Wayne's son."
He takes a phone call and tells his caller, "I talked to the president."He hangs up and laughs."You
know, I said to Julie Eisenhower, 'It's hard for me to believe I'm
here, in the White House, sitting under a picture of Abraham Lincoln,
having dinner with the president of the United States -- me, a football