Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

22 Jan 2012

Joe Paterno Dead at 85

Joe Paterno passed away this morning at the age of 85, after a two-month battle with lung cancer. The cancer diagnosis came just nine days after he was fired by Penn State due to the Sandusky scandal. Click the link for some expanded thoughts from our own Bill Connelly over at SB Nation.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 22 Jan 2012

46 comments, Last at 12 Jul 2012, 3:17pm by PatsFan


by Paul R :: Sun, 01/22/2012 - 12:02pm

There's a Paterno v Lombardi pick-up game in the afterlife this evening. Don't be surprised if you hear thunder tonight.

by krugerindustria... :: Sun, 01/22/2012 - 12:04pm

Sad, just sad. There is no other emotion I can express about the last 2-3 months once the initial rage goes away.

by RIPJoePa (not verified) :: Sun, 01/22/2012 - 1:04pm

Somewhere in heaven a true freshman is being benched.

by Rhys :: Sun, 01/22/2012 - 1:05pm

When you throw an old man under the bus, it isn't really surprising that this is the result. A sad end.

by sjt (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:09am

When you wander through traffic long enough, don't be surprised when a bus appears.

Also, when a man live to be 85, this is usually the result.

by DaveZ (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:18am

So holding the head of a major college football program accountable for "stuff" that happened on his watch is "throwing him under the bus"? Really?

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:59pm


The Board of Trustees didn't fire Paterno because of "failures under his watch." They fired Paterno (and Spanier) to keep the media outrage from eventually falling on them - more specifically the few of them that actually have any power.

by sjt (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:13pm

And that plan sure seems to have worked. From what I've heard everyone affiliated with PSU is totally in love with the Board after they made that move.

Are you serious? Do you really not see why it was inappropriate for him to keep his job?

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 6:23pm

Oh, sure. They completely hate the board. There's just one problem : no one who's complaining has any power to oust the people I'm talking about. Not at all. The alumni reps have no power. The only thing that could really have hurt the people on the board would've been continued media attention, which has dramatically died down.

Go find some reports on the "Town Hall" thing that the president had. Do you know what he did with every question about what the Board did? "Oh, you'll have to ask the Board about that." Except, well, go and try to. There are bylaws for the Board of Trustees that they're not allowed to talk to the media.

Are you serious? Do you really not see why it was inappropriate for him to keep his job?

Do you realize how many people Sandusky fooled? Really? The police were in a room, listening to a confrontation between Sandusky and a victim's mother. His mother. And Sandusky got away with it. Creeps get away with these things because they're good at manipulating people. All of the people out there who think they would've done more are fooling themselves. Research has shown time and time again that this is a pipe dream we fool ourselves with.

The only reason to get rid of Paterno is media-related, and that problem could've been spun by any PR firm worth their salt. Seriously, this is a joke - you have Paterno step down from his coaching responsibilities to assist the newly formed committee in discovering how Sandusky was able to get away with these actions for as long as he has, and what changes need to be made to make sure these awful actions never take place again. Poof. Problem solved. Then in a few months - right before the bowl game, mind you - you announce that the committee has come out with a preliminary list, thanks to Paterno's involvement. He comes back for the bowl game to help coach, and then goes off and retires.

The only reason you think it's so obvious that Paterno had to be fired is because Penn State's leadership is completely nonexistent and there are people who do not want this to get back to them.

by sjt (not verified) :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 9:45am

So let me get this straight: you think that making Paterno a prominent part of the investigation would have been a good move for them in terms of PR? Honestly?

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 12:37pm

Absolutely! For the people who are thinking "man, he should've done more" that can easily be deflected with the response of "Protecting children is so important that we do not want success to depend on the judgement of any one person. We need to find a way to make it impossible for people like Sandusky to manipulate the system again." You could also have Paterno come out and say "I said in hindsight, I wish I had done more. But that's in the past, and I can't change that. What I can do is do more now to make sure this never happens again."

This is all really, really simple PR. The only reason why the suggestion seems crazy now is because of how poorly handled it was in the beginning. Mike McQueary leaks like 4 different stories to the press. Paterno is going to hold a press conference... and then it's cancelled at the last minute. It was complete chaos at Penn State for a week, because there's no leadership. You get everyone together right after things break, get stories straight, and then coordinate. Paterno comes out, says he's shocked and disgusted that no real investigation was done even though he was told otherwise, et cetera.

And before you lambast me for "spinning" a story about child rape, remember - first, again, Sandusky's the accused criminal here, and I'm not suggesting anything other than tar and feathering him. Second, firing Paterno and the coaching staff doesn't help anything.

Obviously you're going to have Paterno move on, but firing him is pointless. If you think a totally different staff, in the same situation, would've done anything different - I'm sorry, but there is a ton of psychological research out there that shows that that belief is just nothing more than a pipe dream. Most people in Paterno and McQueary's shoes would have done less, not more. As evidenced by the fact that most people here did in fact do less. Hell, in the end, the only reason that Sandusky got caught is because a mother basically got pissed off at high school officials who weren't doing anything about it.

What you actually want to happen as the outcome to this story is that you fix the problem that allowed this to happen. And firing Paterno didn't do that. Not at all. In fact, it probably was the worst thing that could've happened, because people are still equating "Paterno enabled child abuse" whereas the real problem is "Penn State's lack of a real, accountable leadership structure enabled child abuse."

by sjt (not verified) :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 3:28pm

I'm now convinced that one of us has to be crazy.

Do you really (REALLY!) think that including a major figurehead who knowingly did slightly more than nothing in the wake of such allegeations in a later investigation of those same allegations is good PR? Never mind if he could even contribute anything to such an investigation, as a 85 year old man who apparently couldn't even comprehend the idea of same sex pedophilia. Never mind that he would likely have been called to testify and give evidence to such an investigation, thus creating a major conflict of interest. How do you see that entrusting one of the people who didn't do enough in the first place to do enough now is a good move from a PR point of view?

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 5:42pm

Do you really (REALLY!) think that including a major figurehead who knowingly did slightly more than nothing in the wake of such allegeations in a later investigation of those same allegations is good PR?

He didn't do "slightly more than nothing." That's what the media has basically jumped on because of Penn State's complete inability to handle the situation. He got the information on a Saturday, thought about it for one day, then told his supervisor. This is what sooooo many other people do across the country in exactly the same situation. This is, in fact, what Penn State wants him to do - no major corporation wants their employees going to the police first, because they'd prefer to be prepared. No one really has a problem with this. This is, of course, why the laws say contacting a supervisor is fine.

What people have a problem with is the fact that he didn't raise holy hell afterwards when nothing apparently happened. The fact that this has propagated as the truth is, again, the failure of Penn State to handle the situation. They let it be portrayed that Paterno just said "ho-hum." The very simple solution to that is to deflect questions in a press conference about "why didn't he follow up..." with a "Right now, we're still gathering all the information as to what happened after the information was passed along by Coach Paterno. Because that relates to an ongoing legal situation, we can't talk about that right now, but that should not be implied to mean that Coach Paterno simply forgot about the situation afterwards."

Note the wording there: it never says that Paterno didn't forget about the situation afterwards. It just says it shouldn't be implied to mean it.

Look, in fact, none of us knows what happened after Paterno reported it upstream. McQueary has since put out what, like, 4 different versions of what he did and said - if all he said was "I think I might've seen something inappropriate", Paterno tells Curley, then Curley later says "yeah, nothing came of that investigation, but just to be safe, we're going to ask him to not bring the kids to the Lasch building" etc. - that changes the narrative entirely. Or it could be utterly awful, and McQueary described it in detail, Paterno was like "jeez, this would be terrible for my career" and asked Curley to bury it.

We don't know. But Penn State hasn't tried to calm the idea that Paterno just sat quietly with the complete knowledge of what happened that day. So that's what sticks in the media, and that's what you're implying happened.

Now, if you ask me what *I* think happened, I think the most likely scenario is that Curley told Spanier, Spanier talked to the power members of the Board, they all agreed "don't let this get out, but let's keep Sandusky to keep his kids off campus," and Curley goes back and says to Paterno and McQueary that the investigation didn't turn up anything inappropriate, and Curley tells Sandusky look, keep the kids out of here.

Maybe Paterno should've been more suspicious, but I think the real guys who deserve the blame here are probably Curley, Spanier, and the board members who knew who hushed it up.

Never mind if he could even contribute anything to such an investigation

Of course he couldn't. It's a complete PR stunt. Duh. But it would've worked fine. Oh, people would've decried it as a PR move for a while, but that would've blown over.

How do you see that entrusting one of the people who didn't do enough in the first place to do enough now

Because he was Joe Paterno. People bought the "fall of a great man" story that the media put out. They would just as eagerly accepted "fall and redemption of a great man." This is all just managing the media, which Penn State didn't do at all.

And if you think I'm downplaying child abuse, again, you're completely wrong. In fact, the people who think getting rid of Paterno was the way to handle this are downplaying child abuse - because they think that it's okay that multiple people knew about this, and there were no policies that forced it to be reported to the police.

Getting rid of Paterno was purely a (bad) PR move. It's a PR move because it didn't help fix the actual problem at all, because the problem is structural at Penn State. Which is really scary.

by Whatev :: Wed, 01/25/2012 - 2:15am

The fact of the matter is that most people you meet in life will be much more interested in assigning blame than fixing the problem.

by Led :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:42pm

Hold on. I'll give you Paterno for the sake of argument. Dealing with legal issues is not in his job description and it was appropriate to let the administration handle it. He certainly could and should have done more to follow up when nothing happened. If JoePa wanted something done, it would've been done. However, without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight (if one can call the horror of reading that grand jury report a "benefit"), I don't think Paterno's sin of omission is a hanging offense although his rep deserved to take a hit. "He did the minimum required by law" is a pretty crappy epitaph for an icon, but Paterno earned it. But Spanier? The buck stops with him. He was made aware of McQueary's report and the pitiful steps taken by Curley to deal with it and apparently signed off on it. He's certainly no less responsible than Curley. And he wasn't on the verge of retirement anyway like Paterno. Even if one isn't moved by the child welfare issue and the morality of the situation, Spanier allowed the worst scandal in the history college athletics occur on his watch and he knew about it in real time. How could he possibly keep his job?

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 1:07am

No, of course Spanier deserved to be fired. But Spanier was a partial figurehead. He was handpicked by the few trustees who actually wield the power. He was elected in a complete sham election where the Board actually first met the guy in a cocktail hour just before the election. There's no way that Spanier knew about Sandusky, and the most powerful trustees didn't know about it. But they'll never be mentioned, of course.

Seriously, Spanier and Curley basically said the reason that they didn't toss Sandusky off campus was that they couldn't figure out how to do it because he was tenured. Jeez, those sound like the words of figureheads.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 12:48pm

Also, I just wanted to point this statement of yours out:

If JoePa wanted something done, it would've been done.

This is wrong. I don't know where the popular opinion of JoePa, the ultimate power at Penn State came from. But Paterno was at Penn State for over 50 years. Urban Meyer hasn't had a job at a university for over 10. Jim Tressel didn't last much longer than 10. Why did Joe stick around for so long? Because he knew his place, and he didn't overstep his bounds. Go and look at a lot of Paterno's press conferences. There were tons of things he wanted to happen that didn't happen. He wanted Notre Dame to be in the Big Ten. He wanted Penn State to get a real hockey rink. He wanted Pitt back on the schedule regularly.

I'm not saying that he shouldn't've done more. In hindsight of course he should've done more. Because what he did wasn't enough. But it is a serious, serious mistake to believe that even if Paterno had done more that anything would have been different. Sandusky had been investigated by the police before with an actual known victim!, and no charges were filed. And both the president and the AD had no idea how to keep Sandusky away from Penn State. There's no reason to believe that Paterno would've had any more luck.

We really want to believe that there was a way for one man to have done something different to prevent this from happening. That way we can point the blame at one person. But that's not always the case. Sometimes the problem is that the institutions that are supposed to protect us are screwed up, and the predators are too good at what they do. That's a lot more scary... but it's probably closer to the truth.

by sjt (not verified) :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 3:42pm

Tressel and Meyer never stuck around for 50 years because they were either moving up to a better job (which coaches do all the time now) or getting fired because of NCAA violations (something which doesn't necessarily require headbutting with school management. The opposite in many cases). Though Tressell actually did spend 15 years at Youngstown, and I don't doubt he could have spend decades more at OSU if he hadn't screwed that up with violations. Neither one was ever in danger from management for overstepping the bounds of their position, as long as they kept winning. That's what gets most coaches fired: losing, not clashing with the trustees over hockey rinks.

Paterno was an outlier. He stuck around for 50 years because he happened to turn down a number of other job offers and was eventually beloved enough to endure low swings which might have doomed other coaches.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Wed, 01/25/2012 - 2:03am

Tressel got fired because he lied to the adminstration and to the NCAA - because he didn't pass something up the line, because to him, everything stopped with him. With that mindset, you'll eventually get fired, because the people who are nominally above you would like to, y'know, occasionally be treated that way.

Meyer left Florida (most likely) because it was too stressful - because he was trying to do too much. Paterno delegated - he lasted as long as he did because in the end, he wasn't doing much because he had delegated so well.

Both of these stress the point - Paterno knew his place. He didn't try to handle things outside of his job description, and he trusted other people to do their jobs. That's why he lasted so long.

by Led :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 5:29pm

I'm not saying Paterno was all powerful. It's not like he could've gotten the governor impeached or anything. But if he started making loud noises to Spanier and the trustees about the need for a serious investigation and reports to the police and the charity, and threatening to go public, it's hard to imagine that he would be ignored. Were the trustees going to fire a beloved legend for speaking out to protect kids from sexual abuse? Talk about a PR nightmare. Not to mention the illegality of it. (Most states have whistleblower protection statutes and I'm sure PA does too.)

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 5:54pm

But if he started making loud noises to Spanier and the trustees about the need for a serious investigation

The reason I said "Paterno's not all powerful" is that if Paterno had come out and said "hey, I think you really should do a big investigation here" that does not mean that Curley would've saluted him, run out, and did a bang-up job. Curley respected Paterno, but he was Paterno's boss, not the other way around, regardless of what people thought about the power structure. If Curley wanted to just do a half-ass job and make it go away, he would have no problem telling Paterno they were "very thorough, and nothing came of it."

You're right that if Paterno had been the one who saw what had happened, I'm sure he would've pushed harder, because he would've known the truth. But he wasn't, and all he had was a grad assistant's statement that he saw something inappropriate, and then, most likely, Curley's placating answer.

by Raiderjoe :: Sun, 01/22/2012 - 3:41pm

If have nothing nicw to say, then say nothing at all. Learned that as little kid.

So fir J. Paterno will say nothing & write nothing

by PatsFan :: Sun, 01/22/2012 - 9:50pm

Totally agree with you on both counts, RJ.

by DerpHerpDerp (not verified) :: Sun, 01/22/2012 - 11:44pm

Making jokes about a man's (any man's - but particularly one of the few like Joe) death is sick. You aren't funny. You're tasteless and completely out of line. Take your schtick to 4chan where it belongs and leave obituary threads alone.

My deepest condolences to Mr. Paterno's family.

by Karma Coma :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:08am

It didn't sound like he was making a joke, but he was hinting at the OTHER thing Paterno will be remembered for. A man's death doesn't absolve him of what he did during his life, and some people are just less tolerant of child rape than others. It's no surprise that a man with some tolerance will be spoken ill of by some with no tolerance.

by SuperGrover :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:42am

People die all the time. You and I both will soon enough. Fact of life.

There was no joke there. Lighten the eff up.

by Joshua Northey (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:25am

Exactly. AN 85 year old man dying of cancer isn't news. It is like reporting that the sun rose today. Par for the course. People die every day, tens of thousands of them. That is the way the world works. No reason to be squeamish or hypersensitive about it.

By all accounts he lived a long life doing what he wanted to do, there is nothing "sad" about his death.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:34am

I didn't see a joke.

by Theo :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:31am

By writing this, you say you have nothing good to say about the man. If you were told to shut up in that case, then please do.

by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:23pm

Sorry for beinf the insensitive man. Hey eveyrbpdy look at the insensitive man!!!!

by young curmudgeon :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 8:09pm

Those of you who follow my posts closely (and I can count you on the fingers of no hands) know that I have occasionally posed the question "RaiderJoe--brilliant performance artist or drink-laden oaf?" I almost always come down on the side of the former, and this latest comment from RJ pretty much settles it. RaiderJoe,I salute you.

by DerpHerpDerp (not verified) :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 12:40am

Trolling in this thread is pathetic. You are pathetic.

by Dean :: Sun, 01/22/2012 - 3:43pm

His great failure at the end of his life will dwarf all of his accomplishments in football. But tearing down the pedistal just shows that we are all flawed, even the greats. In the end, Coach Paterno proved to be human, just like everyone else.

by justanothersteve :: Sun, 01/22/2012 - 3:52pm

Apparently censorship now exists on FO if you have a dissenting opinion.

by Karma Coma :: Sun, 01/22/2012 - 5:37pm

I was wondering where that comment went. I didn't react the same way, but i don't think the commenter deserved to be silenced for his strong opinion.

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:25am

Out of curiosity, was the strong opinion in question broadly along the lines of "Paterno's football career should be disregarded given the heinous behaviour he enabled" or "Paterno was too great a human to possibly be guilty of disregarding such behaviour and is the victim of a conspiracy by his former colleagues"?

Or, I suppose, door #3 - "There's nothing wrong with buggering boys". Though possibly NAMBLA advocacy would fall foul of the no politics rule . . .

by Karma Coma :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:15am

I don't remember it word for word, but i don't think he mentioned football at all. The gist was that Paterno's death was a good thing given the heinous behaviour he enabled.

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:47pm

I see. Does seem rather strong, but I don't think I would have censored it.

by DaveZ (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:16am

Sadly I correctly predicted at the time the scandal and firing happened that he'd be dead in 6 months...it was only about 3. As big an idiot Matt Millen is, think he had it right, Paterno died of a broken heart.

by Theo :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 5:37pm

Football was literally his life.

by akn :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 2:40pm

Matt Millen and DaveZ, closet cardiologists?

He died of small cell lung cancer. Rare in nonsmokers like Paterno, but it happens.

by Guido Merkens :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:38pm

I don't understand why there has to be a debate over whether his legacy is good or bad. Obviously he did a really bad thing, but he also made a positive impact on the lives of many young men. Can't we remember both parts of his legacy without deciding which one is dominant?

by sjt (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:10pm

No! Haven't you learned yet??! Everything is either good or bad in the world, no room for grey areas! More specifically, everything is either the best most amazing thing ever or the spawn of Satan himself.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:30pm

You have to understand, on FO, Joe Paterno was the devil, primarily because he didn't coach at Syracuse.

by Steve in WI :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 6:15pm

In all of the debate surrounding Paterno's role in enabling Sandusky, and whether or not he should have been fired, I've been surprised that no one seems to be putting the blame on the authorities, who were alerted to the allegations and who investigated Sandusky three separate times before finally charging him. If you feel that Paterno was rightly vilified for not doing more, shouldn't you feel even more outrage that the people who earn their paychecks prosecuting people like Sandusky failed to do their jobs?

by PatsFan :: Thu, 07/12/2012 - 3:17pm

To the Paterno apologists that may still remain, the report from the PSU trustees' handpicked investigator says:

Paterno "was an integral part of this active decision to conceal" and his firing was justified, Freeh said at a news conference. He called the officials' disregard for child victims "callous and shocking."