Joe Paterno: 1926-2012

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Sadly, the grim reports that dominated the college football news cycle beginning Saturday evening were a precursor to the inevitable but still numbing reality: a coaching legend has passed.

A family spokesperson confirmed to the Associated Press that Joseph Vincent Paterno has died at a State College hospital at the age of 85, just over two months after being diagnosed with a form of lung cancer.  A posting to Penn State’s official Facebook page read simply: “With great sadness we mourn the passing of Coach Joe Paterno…Few have done more.”

Paterno passed away at 9:25 a.m. ET Sunday, and the official cause of death was metastic small cell carcinoma of the lung.

The legendary former Penn State head coach was surrounded by family and friends, who had been summoned to the on-campus hospital when Paterno’s health took a turn for the worse recently.

“It is with great sadness that we announce that Joe Paterno passed away earlier today,” a statement from the family read. “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.”

A statement attributed to university president Rodney Erickson and the Board of Trustees was released shortly after Paterno’s death.

“We grieve for the loss of Joe Paterno, a great man who made us a greater university. His dedication to ensuring his players were successful both on the field and in life is legendary and his commitment to education is unmatched in college football. His life, work and generosity will be remembered always.

“The University plans to honor him for his many contributions and to remember his remarkable life and legacy. We are all deeply saddened.”

Paterno was born Dec. 21, 1926, in Brooklyn, NY, and, after his playing days at Brown University were complete, was hired as an assistant at Penn State in 1950.  Shortly after the 1965 season had ended, Paterno was named head coach of the Nittany Lions; for the next 46 years, Paterno lorded over Happy Valley as the face of both a football program and a university.

During his nearly five decades as head coach, Paterno accumulated 409 wins, the most in Div. I history; a record 37 appearances in bowl games; and two national championships.  As great of a coach as he was on the field, he was widely hailed as, at least until the events that have transpired since last November, an even greater man off of it, donating millions back to his beloved university and shaping the lives of untold numbers of players, coaches and other football support staff.

The legacy he had built in more than a half a century at the school, however, was threatened — or erased in the minds of some — by the Jerry Sandusky child-sex abuse scandal that’s rocked the football program specifically and the university in general.  Mere days after his former assistant was indicted on more than 50 charges relating to the sexual molestation of underage boys, Paterno was fired by the school’s board of trustees, which declared in a statement that their “unanimous judgment was that Coach Paterno could not be expected to continue to effectively perform his duties and that it was in the best interests of the University to make an immediate change in his status.”

Nine weeks after his final game Nov. 5 — eerily and vaguely similar time-wise to the passing of Bear Bryant after he had coached his last game at Alabama — Coach Paterno is gone.

Our condolences go out to his family, friends and every single person touched by a helluva coach and a great-but-fallible human being who will ultimately be defined by the totality of his life, both the good and the bad.

RIP Coach Paterno.

(Photo credit: NBCSports.com)

Arkansas assistant Vernon Hargreaves added to Mizzou’s staff

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Vernon Hargreaves wasn’t retained by the new coaching staff in Fayetteville, but he’ll end up remaining in the SEC anyway.

Missouri confirmed Thursday that Hargreaves has been hired by Barry Odom and added to the second-year head coach’s staff.  The veteran assistant will serve as Odom’s inside linebackers coach.

“I’ve known Vernon for a number of years and have always respected the way his position plays the game,” said Odom in a statement distributed by the school. “He will be a great teacher and mentor for our student-athletes. His experience will be so valuable for our program; I’m excited about Vernon and his family joining our Mizzou family.”

Hargreaves spent the past three seasons as the linebackers coach at Arkansas.  Most notably, he served in the same capacity at Miami from 1998-2005.

Hargreaves also spent time on staffs at Houston (2013-14), South Florida (2010-12), East Carolina (2007-09), Florida International (2006) and UConn (1985-97).  He was also the special teams coordinator at USF and ECU in addition to being a position coach.

Telly Lockette takes job at Florida State as TEs coach

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As Willie Taggart constructs his first coaching staff at Florida State, he’s added yet another familiar face.

Taggart, FSU announced earlier Thursday, has hired Telly Lockette as the Seminoles’ tight ends coach.  Lockette had spent the past three seasons as the running backs coach at Oregon State.

Prior to that, Lockette was a member of Taggart’s coaching staff at USF as running backs coach for two seasons and maintains deep ties to the fertile recruiting soil of South Florida.

“I’ve known Coach Lockette for a long time and am excited he is joining our staff at Florida State,” Taggart said. “He was an important part of my first staff at South Florida and has gained Power 5 experience with his last three seasons in the Pac-12. Coach Lockette is a tremendous recruiter and coach who does a phenomenal job developing student-athletes on and off the field. While we were at South Florida he was the primary recruiter for the Miami area and helped us sign a number of impact players, including Quinton Flowers, Khalid McGee and Deatrick Nichols. His expertise will benefit our current and future Seminoles.”

The job with Taggart at USF was Lockette’s first at any level of college football.  The first 10 years of his coaching career were spent at the high school level, including a five-year stint at Miami Central from 2008-12.

Amidst Arizona State chatter, Texas Tech DC David Gibbs signs contract extension

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Almost without fail, it pays to have your name circulating through the annual churning of the coaching rumor mill.

The latest example is David Gibbs, with the Texas Tech defensive coordinator being rumored as a target for the same job with Herm Edwards at Arizona State over the past few days.  Fast-forward to Thursday night, and Tech announced that it has finalized a new two-year contract extension with Gibbs.  The coordinator is now signed through the 2019 season.

According to the school, Gibbs’ pay will be bumped from $550,000 per year to $650,000.  That number puts Gibbs right in the middle of Big 12 DC pay.

“We are fortunate to have one of the top defensive coordinators in the country in Coach Gibbs,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said in a release. “Since the conclusion of the regular season, finalizing this new contract to keep Coach Gibbs at Texas Tech has been a priority for myself and [athletic director] Kirby [Hocutt]. We look forward to continuing to build one of the nation’s top defenses in the years to come under Coach Gibbs.”

Long a punchline, the Red Raiders’ defense has steadily improved in the three years under Gibbs.  This season, their 27 takeaways led the Big 12 and are the most in a season for the football program since 2008.  They’re also currently seventh in the country with four defensive touchdowns.

With Gibbs back, he’ll have 10 returning starters with which to work next season.

“There isn’t a better person to work for than Kliff Kingsbury, and I’m looking forward to continue building this program with him,” Gibbs said. “There is still plenty of work that needs to be done, but I’m excited about the future of our team.”

RB Justin Crawford to skip West Virginia’s bowl game, begin preparing for NFL draft

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Sometimes the personnel gods giveth, and sometimes the personnel gods taketh away.

Thursday evening, West Virginia announced that quarterback Will Grier will return to Morgantown for the 2018 season.  Not long after, the same football program confirmed that Justin Crawford has decided to eschew playing in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Instead of preparing for Utah in the postseason, the senior running back will instead begin preparations for the 2018 NFL draft.

“Justin has logged a lot of miles and been a key contributor for us the past two seasons,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He made a decision to not play in the bowl game based on what is best for him and his family. He came to West Virginia to further his education and be a featured back in the Big 12 and he accomplished his goals. As he starts his preparation for the NFL Draft, we wish him nothing but the best.”

Crawford has led the Mountaineers in rushing each of the past two seasons.  He’s the first WVU player to post back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Noel Devine in 2008-09.

After finishing third in the Big 12 this season with 1,061 yards on the ground, he was named second-team all-conference for the second straight season.  Following the 2016 season, he earned the league’s Newcomer of the Year honor.