Home » News » Urban Meyer and others reflect on the life, legacy of Joe Paterno

Urban Meyer and others reflect on the life, legacy of Joe Paterno

Courtesy of MCT

Joseph Vincent Paterno, the former Penn State football coach and all-time wins leader of Division I football, died Sunday at the age of 85.

Paterno died at the Mount Nittany Medical Center near University Park, Pa., surrounded by loved ones, according to the PSU athletics website. Paterno guided the Nittany Lions to two national championships and 409 wins before he was removed as coach in the wake of allegations that former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky molested multiple children.

Paterno was diagnosed with lung cancer in November 2011, and though doctors were optimistic that he would make a full recovery, the former Nittany Lions coach re-entered the hospital on Jan. 13.

He would never again leave the hospital alive.

The Paterno family confirmed the coach’s death in a Sunday release, which said:

“It is with great sadness that we announce that Joe Paterno passed away earlier (Sunday). His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled. He died as he lived. He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been. His ambitions were far-reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them. He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community.”

Paterno won his final game — a 10-7 victory against Illinois — on Oct. 29. That victory vaulted Paterno past Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson for the lead for most wins by a major-college football coach.

Paterno’s final appearance in a bowl game came against new Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer in the 2011 Outback Bowl. Meyer’s Florida Gators defeated Paterno’s Nittany Lions, 37-24.

In an exclusive interview with The Lantern, Meyer said he took time to appreciate the matchup against Paterno during their encounter in the bowl game.

“It was just epic,” Meyer said. “I just caught myself during the game looking across the field thinking, ‘You know, this is Joe Paterno.'”

Meyer also said Paterno’s love for his family was an inspiration to him and his own loved ones.

“I got a chance to meet (Paterno) eight or nine years ago, and we became great friends,” Meyer said. “We would go spend time together, and every chance I could, sit down and visit with him. I have great admiration for him (and) not just for football. He and his wife were best friends. They’re teammates. They’re soul mates, and (my wife) and I would often just stare at the two of them and see how close they were.

“His commitment to family, to a university and, obviously, his players, is almost unequaled in this day in age. That’s why I admired him so much.”

The PSU board of trustees announced Paterno would no longer coach the university’s football team on Nov. 9, just days after Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly charged Sandusky with 40 counts of child abuse.

Meyer said his prayers remain with the victims of Sandusky’s alleged abuse, adding that Paterno’s legacy to college football wasn’t tarnished in his mind.

“I think it’s very unfortunate because I know Joe Paterno — and once again, the first people you worry about are the victims,” Meyer said. “The second people you worry about are the people that I know that are extremely high character and would have nothing to do with that.”

Sameer Gupta, a third-year in strategic communications, said Paterno should be remembered for his on-field accomplishments.

“He’s known as the winningest coach in college football and just like over the past year people started to, I guess, see him in a different light because of all the scandals,” Gupta said. “But everyone needs to remember that, first things first, (Paterno) was a great football coach.”

Under Paterno, the Nittany Lions posted an 8-13-0 overall record against OSU and a 2-10-0 mark at Ohio Stadium. Not included in these records is OSU’s 38-14 home win against PSU on Nov. 13, 2010.

That game, which was vacated by OSU along with the rest of 2010 season for NCAA rules violations, was Paterno’s last visit to Ohio Stadium.

Commentators speculated on ESPN Sunday morning that Paterno died of a broken heart, that he had nothing to live for after college football was taken from him.

Bethany Diacou, a second-year in economics, agreed.

“I definitely feel like his death was sped up by the whole Sandusky situation,” Dicaou said. “He may have lived to see another football season if this situation wouldn’t have occurred. Just all the added stress, and getting fired, being held accountable for Sandusky’s actions and whatnot. I think it definitely affected (Paterno).”

Ryan Loy, the sports chief and acting football editor for PSU’s student newspaper, The Daily Collegian, said sadness is the pervading mood on campus despite Paterno’s relationship to the Sandusky scandal.

“It would be like that no matter what for a death like this, but just the circumstances surrounding the last few months make it harder to take for people that are a supporter of Paterno through all of this,” Loy said.

Loy also said the reaction to Paterno’s death is what he would have expected before Sandusky’s sexual abuse allegations came to light.

“There might have been a few more extensive tributes to (Paterno), but it’s certainly more positive than what was being said a few months ago,” Loy said. “They’re giving him his respect. He was a football coach, but he never lost track that there were a lot more important things than football.”

His wife, Sue; sons Scott, David and Jay; daughters Diana and Mary Kathryn; and 17 grandchildren survive Paterno.

Ritika Shah contributed to this story.

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