Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in major college football history, has died at the age of 85. While we must never forget the awful lessons from the past three months, it's important to acknowledge the mark the 2007 College Football Hall of Fame inductee made on the sport, Penn State University and the lives of hundreds of players and coaches.
His 409 wins surpassed the mark posted by Grambling's Eddie Robinson -- he's also the only Division I-A/FBS coach to reach 400 victories. Only 10 other head coaches at any level of college football have tallied even 300 wins. During his career at Penn State, other I-A/FBS football programs made 888 head coaching changes.
Paterno led the Nittany Lions to national championships in 1982 and 1986, along with five unbeaten years. In Paterno's tenure as head coach, the Nittany Lions went 24-12-1 in bowl games, making him the coach with the most all-time bowl wins.
Though PSU didn't join the Big Ten until 1993, Paterno's program has won three conference titles, and he was named the conference's top coach three times as well.
Following Penn State's 1986 title, Paterno became the first college football coach to be named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. Coach of the year awards aren't easy to track, but Paterno has won more than two dozen of them, including a near-sweep in 2005, when he won eight of them.
More than 350 of his former players have gone on to play in the NFL, with 33 of them being selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Paterno came to the State College as a graduate assistant in 1950 after graduating from Brown University. After 16 seasons, he took over the program and stayed at Penn State -- spurning multiple professional offers -- long enough to become the longest-tenured head coach in NCAA Division I history.
He was also known for his philanthropy, earning one of the lower salaries in FBS football and still diverting millions of dollars back to the university. He helped raise funds for a $13.5 million expansion to Penn State's campus library, which is named in his honor. SB Nation's Penn State blog Black Shoe Diaries notes how far Paterno's impact has gone beyond the football field:
On an individual level, he has psychologically tweaked players -- and all of us, along the way -- into performing better in the classroom, on the field, and in life. He has pushed for NCAA reform to make athletics more equitable on and off the field. He has taken chances on players in whom he saw potential unfulfilled, and often helped them to avoid the dangerous trappings of their adolescent environment. Penn State's football program has always graduated its athletes at a substantially higher rate than its competitors, and its graduation rate for African-American players was above the national average for more than twenty years. There is a reason people have referred to Paterno as "Saint Joe".
No man is worthy of being revered. As we've learned, Paterno was no exception, considering his role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal and other stories that have come to light as of late. But it's hard to say a modern figure has done more for an American university and surrounding community than Paterno did.
This update incorporates elements from a previous article by Michael Katz.