The tainting of JoePa’s legacy

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How do you define a man who for 60-plus years has been an institution bigger in some respects than the institution of higher learning that employs him?  Prior to last Friday, summing up what Joe Paterno meant to the isolated, idyllic Penn State campus would’ve been easy: everything.

Now, the answer is much more muddled, much more tainted.

JoePa, as he’s affectionately known, is the first man most people think of when they hear Penn State, a reaction that will likely continue long after the shock of his retirement Wednesday subsides.  As football programs around the country faced off-field scandal after scandal spanning multiple decades, Paterno was the moral compass Nittany Lion Nation — hell, college football as a whole — knew they could count on to never lead them astray even as the sport was seemingly hurtling toward some sort of gridiron Sodom and Gomorrah.  When it came to that program, you knew what you were going to get: players clad in beautifully-bland uniforms being led by a man girded with impeccable character and straight-out-of-the-fifties glasses.  And a moral fiber that was above reproach.

It wasn’t just Penn State football that has been Joe Paterno since Lyndon Johnson was sitting in the Oval Office.  Penn State, the university, has been Joe Paterno.

After what’s transpired the past five days, the facade of integrity that took more than a half-century to build has been shattered and perhaps irreparably damaged by the child-sex abuse scandal that’s saddened and sickened even the most hardened of observers.  The memories of a program that did things the right way led by a man who ensured things were done the right way?  Replaced to a large degree by the horrifying images contained in the grand jury’s 40-count indictment of Jerry Sandusky, the former Paterno assistant who was once among the coach’s most trusted lieutenants.

Merriam-Webster defines the word “legacy” as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.”  On paper, what he’s leaving behind is undeniable and untouchable: 409 wins, the most in Div. 1 history, as well as two national championships and multiple coach-of-the-year awards.  One of just a handful of BcS conference schools — Stanford, Northwestern and Boston College being the others — to never have been found guilty of a major violation in football.  Consistently graduating a higher percentage of his football players than the vast majority of football programs around the country.

That’s a black-and-white football legacy likely never to be equaled.  The gray area outside of anything that can be measured statistically, the DNA that makes up one’s moral fiber?  That gray area as it pertains to Paterno is a moving target, hard to grasp in the immediacy of a moment with still many more questions than answers.

The gruesome details have been repeated ad nauseam since their release late last week, but the singular question remains: why didn’t Coach Paterno go to the authorities when it became clear the administration was going to sweep under the rug the allegations of on-campus sodomizing witnessed by one his grad assistants and perpetrated by his former heir apparent?  And this isn’t about using the power Paterno had built over the decades to run roughshod over the legal system and play judge, jury and executioner.  This is about the moral responsibility of a human being, about a man — one who dedicated his life to raising up and protecting kids entrusted to him — failing miserably when the opportunity to protect even younger, more defenseless kids arose by doing nothing more than the bare minimum required under the law.

With authority comes responsibility.  With responsibility comes accountability.  Of all the times Paterno failed to win on a football field, his failure to live up to everything he preached for over the years– holding himself, his players and his program to a higher standard — is his biggest loss, his biggest failing.  The accountability that was a bedrock of the man was lost, as was the innocence of any subsequent victims.  He failed everything he stood for when he sat down and did nothing more than what was sufficient in the eyes of the law.

With the 20/20 hindsight available even at his advanced age, Paterno can see how miserably he, and undoubtedly many others, failed those children.

“It is one of the great sorrows of my life… I wish I had done more,” a portion of Paterno’s retirement announcement read.

The failure is not Paterno’s alone, certainly.  The laundry list of Penn State officials and those associated with Sandusky’s children’s charity who could’ve done something, anything to prevent further victims from the tentacles of an alleged pedophile is sickening in its length, and those people should be relieved of their duties as well.  That doesn’t, however, absolve Paterno of the culpability for his inaction.  It’s an embarrassing stain on an otherwise impeccable record both on and off the field that won’t, and shouldn’t, be forgotten.

Certainly all the good he’s done for the players he calls “his kids” cannot be erased, nor can all he’s done for the community or the sport be minimized or tossed to the side.  And certainly there’s far, far more good deeds in the numerical sense than bad, even as the bad as we currently know it reaped unimaginable consequences for numerous innocent children and outweighs in the minds of some any good for which he’s directly responsible.

Joe Paterno, the football coach, and Joe Paterno, the man, have always been intertwined, walking in lockstep as the model of what amateur athletics on and off the field should be.  Right or wrong, the scandal that ultimately forced the ouster of a coaching legend is part of his legacy forevermore; how big a part of his legacy is up to the writer or reader of the whole of the narrative.

For me, it’s merely a reminder that human beings, great and small, are fallible.  Even, and especially, those that cast as large of a shadow as Coach Paterno.

Unfortunately for JoePa, and much more so for the victim at the time and those that came after, the fallibility that surfaced in 2002 had unintended but nonetheless tragic consequences.  That’s something Coach Paterno will have to live with for however many more years God grants him on this earth.

And that is a hell of a lot more damaging and painful to a man with not many breaths left than any rewrite of his legacy could ever be.

Nation’s top 2017 recruit announces transfer to Miami

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The transfer train has made yet another stop in South Florida, and this one brought a passenger with a helluva high school pedigree with not a lot to show for yet on his college résumé.

In mid-December, it was reported that Jaelan Phillips would be transferring from UCLA.  A little over two months later, Phillips announced on Twitter that he will continue his collegiate playing career at Miami.

Because of NCAA transfer rules, Phillips will likely have to sit out the 2019 season.  He would then have two years of eligibility to use beginning in 2020.

Phillips was the No. 1-rated recruit in the entire country for the Class of 2017 on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.  Despite that lofty ranking, although in large part due to injury, his collegiate career thus far hasn’t amounted to much.

As a true freshman, Phillips started four of the seven games in which he played. Despite missing nearly half the season because of an ankle injury, he finished fourth on the Bruins in tackles for loss with seven and second in sacks with 3.5. Battling additional injuries in 2018, including concussions, Phillips played in just four games this past season.

Phillips would be the sixth FBS player to transfer to Miami since Manny Diaz took over at The U, joining USC safety Bubba Bolden (HERE), Auburn running back Asa Martin (HERE), Ohio State quarterback Tate Martell (HERE), Buffalo wide receiver K.J. Osborn (HERE) as well as Phillips’ former UCLA teammate, defensive tackle Chigozie Nnoruka (HERE).

Clemson 4-star LB signee suffers knee injury in basketball game

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When a clip of Trevor Lawrence getting into a scuffle during an intramural basketball game went viral earlier this week, a chorus of takes screamed into the void asking what a college football player was doing playing basketball in the first place.

Dabo Swinney has always defended his players’ intramural endeavors, reasoning that unpaid college students should not be treated as employees. “They’re just having fun and enjoying being college people and doing what college kids do,” he said.

Swinney has defended this even in light of Jordan Williams, a potential starter at defensive tackle, suffering a leg injury during an intramural basketball game that will keep him out of a crucial spring for his development.

And now the basketball injury bug has struck another Clemson player.

Bryson Constantin, a 4-star linebacker signee in Clemson’s 2019 class, suffered a knee injury while playing for Baton Rouge’s University Lab High School basketball team last week — and he believes it could be serious.

“At a basketball game last week, I came down from an alley and I felt a pop in my knee,” Constantin told TigerNet. “I went to the ER that night to make sure it wasn’t like a knee cap or anything like that. They figured out it was most likely my ACL. I went for an MRI two days ago but I had too much blood in my knee to do an MRI, so they drained all the blood out and they were like, the only way you’d have this much blood in your knee is if you did tear your ACL. I go back for an MRI this weekend or Monday, so I’ll know for sure what it is coming up soon.”

While active college players playing intramural basketball is a (somewhat) controversial practice, incoming signees playing for their high school teams is not. Many a college coach has waxed poetically about falling in love with a player’s gridiron potential while watching him compete on the hardwood.

Still, it’s a cruel bit of irony: the only place the nation’s best football team seems to suffer any sort of defeat is on the basketball court.

Texas to host Louisiana-Lafayette in 2021

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Texas will host Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 4, 2021, according to a report Thursday from FBSchedules.

The Ragin’ Cajuns will cancel a scheduled game with Arizona State in order to make the trip to Austin. Other than the shorter trip, the switch will not turn a profit for Louisiana-Lafayette. The school was scheduled to make $1.3 million from Arizona State and will take $1.5 million from Texas, but, in order to access that $1.5 million payday, the Cajuns will have to give back $200,000 to the Sun Devils.

The meeting will be the third all-time between the schools. Texas beat ULL 52-10 to open the 2000 season and 60-3 to begin its 2005 national championship campaign. Both of those games were in Austin as well.

For what it’s worth, Texas hosts Louisiana Tech and LSU in this upcoming season.

After Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas will visit Arkansas and host Rice to round out its non-conference slate. ULL also has games with Ohio (home) and Liberty (road) lined up for 2021.

FBSchedules also reported Thursday that Louisiana-Lafayette will visit Minnesota on Sept. 30, 2023 and play a home-and-home with Tulane in 2024 and ’27.

The Cajuns played a 2-for-1 with the Gophers from 2001-03; Minnesota won all three games. ULL and Tulane have played 27 times previously. Tulane is 23-4 in those games, including each club’s most recent game — a 41-24 Green Wave win in the 2018 Cure Bowl.

Florida State hires Randy Clements as offensive line coach

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You knew this was coming as soon as Kendal Briles was hired.

Florida State on Thursday announced Randy Clements as its offensive line coach, ending weeks of speculation and idle waiting for this to happen. Much like an architect prefers a specific contractor or a director only works with a certain cinematographer, Briles and Clements are a package deal. An OG member of the Art Briles tree, Clements has been with dad and/or son dating back to 1990, when Art was the head coach at Stephenville High School and Clements was his offensive line coach.

After Art broke away to serve as Texas Tech’s running backs coach from 2000-02, Clements reunited with Briles at Houston in 2003, where Kendal was along for the ride as a wide receiver and safety. Clements then followed the Briles men to Baylor.

After the staff blew up in infamy in 2016, Clements and Kendal Briles spent 2017 in isolation from each other, with Kendal at Florida Atlantic and Clements at NAIA Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.

But Briles’ overwhelming success in his one season at FAU led a desperate Major Applewhite to hire him, and he brought Clements along with him. The pair’s success at Houston has now led them to Tallahassee.

“Randy Clements has a remarkable resume filled with quantifiable results coaching offensive linemen,” Willie Taggart said in a statement. “He has proven to be a successful teacher and knows exactly how we want to operate in this offense. I am happy for our student-athletes to learn from him, and I’m enthusiastic about him joining our staff as we continue to build a championship culture at Florida State.”

Taggart made a well-renowned hire off the bat in luring Greg Frey, a member of FSU’s 1993 national championship team, away from Michigan, but the hire did not work out. Working with a patchwork line (to put it kindly), Frey’s offensive line helped FSU rank 110th in yards per play, 129th in yards per carry and 112th in sacks allowed, and he was relieved of duties last week to make room for Briles’ preferred contractor.

“I want to start by thanking Coach Taggart for this opportunity,” Clements said. “My family and I are thrilled to be part of this prestigious program. My background with Kendal will be valuable, but I’m also looking forward to integrating with the rest of the staff and can’t wait to get to know and work with the student-athletes on campus. I am excited to work toward our goal of bringing Florida State its next championship.”