Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Paterno's legacy growing more clouded

By Mark Madden
Beaver County Times
November 22, 2011

In this AP file photo taken Oct. 22, 2011, Penn State coach Joe Paterno walks off the field after warmups before Penn State's NCAA college football game against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill.

Before he got fired, I considered Joe Paterno to be the finest coach in college sports history. He won often and won clean.

My opinion stands. But that memory of Paterno is fading fast.

Paterno isn't evil. Far from it. His acts of philanthropy go into the multi-millions, and far beyond those known. The ill-advised open loyalty he inspires among ex-players like Franco Harris speaks volumes. Even when it costs them money and credibility, many still support Paterno with fervor both idiotic and inspiring.

To quote Jason Sudeikis playing Satan on Saturday Night Live: "I know you love JoePa, but you've got to get out of the way on this one!"

So, what happened?

Paterno's fall came largely because he stuck around too long. A product of a different generation, he became a stranger in a strange land.

The Internet, social media, tabloid journalism -- Paterno was a superstar coach before any of that existed, and he chose to not embrace (or even acknowledge) any of it. Adding further to his metaphoric isolation was Penn State's literal isolation. State College is a self-contained hamlet in the middle of nowhere, its entire economy dependent on the university, everything aided and abetted by friendly local media and police.

Paterno is from a time when you could successfully keep secrets. What the neighbors thought mattered. Deal with everything internally. Keep it in the family.

But I still have no idea why Paterno chose to keep Jerry Sandusky's shameful contact a secret. I can't see Paterno protecting Sandusky. Their friendship seems to have dissolved around the time Sandusky's twisted proclivities first came to light.

For Paterno, it's always been about the program and the university. Paterno was shielding those entities from shame and scandal. Not Sandusky. Not himself.

It didn't work. Only someone of Paterno's generation -- or incredibly stupid -- would have thought this could be buried indefinitely. Paterno's accomplices in this cover-up were morons. Paterno was merely clueless.

But there's no way to not blame Paterno. The argument that he did as required by reporting to his superiors is ludicrous. Paterno hasn't had "superiors" in decades. Morally, Paterno himself admits he didn't do enough. For a man of his conceit, confidence and self-righteousness, that admission carries the biggest shame of all.

Had Paterno and Penn State gone to the police in 1998, or 2000, or 2002, the scandal would have been bad, but brief. At the end, Paterno's legend would have burned even brighter.

By 2011, there was no good way out.

At 84, Paterno was clearly too old and vulnerable to deal with the onslaught of the last two weeks. That was probably also true when he was 70 or so and first had to face the prospect of staring down this unseemly issue.

Would a younger, more dynamic coach have handled the situation properly? Would Tom Bradley have handled the situation properly? It seems a good bet.

Bradley, 55, should have succeeded Paterno a decade ago. But now the clock is ticking on Bradley's time at Penn State. He's coached there since 1979, and is handling his job as Paterno's interim successor with courage, class and chutzpah.

That doesn't matter: Bradley will be fired at season's end along with the rest of the staff. Every vestige of the scandal must be purged.

As for the statue of Paterno that stands outside Beaver Stadium, debate rages about its future. One suggestion: Turn it around, so Joe can look the other way.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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