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.

Report: Dan Lanning receives nod as Georgia’s next defensive coordinator

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When Mel Tucker left Georgia to be the head coach at Colorado, it was clear Kirby Smart‘s next defensive coordinator was already on his staff. It would either be Glenn Schumann or Dan Lanning, two 30-something whiz kids who split linebacker duties for the Bulldogs (Schumann inside, Lanning outside).

We got a window into Smart’s thinking during the Sugar Bowl, when Lanning was chosen to lead the defensive huddles and represent the defense in press conference setting. Georgia lost that game to Texas, but it was apparently enough for Smart to know his original hunch was correct as Seth Emerson reported Friday for The Athletic that Lanning will be Georgia’s next defensive coordinator.

While Schumann did not win the rose, he’s not going home (or, in this case, staying put) empty handed. According to Emerson, Schumann will be Georgia’s co-defensive coordinator, and both will net massive raises. After both made $325,000 in 2018, Lanning will make $750,000 in 2019 while Schumann will earn $550,000. The 2018 season was Lanning’s first at Georgia, while Schumann followed Smart over from Alabama. Lanning spent 2016-17 as the inside linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator at Memphis. The 32-year-old was a high school assistant coach in Missouri as recently as 2010.

All eight returning assistants will net raises, per Emerson, but the overall staff pool will go down after losing Tucker’s $1.5 million salary. (Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and his $950,000 salary also left for Tennessee, but previously-announced promotion James Coley will also make $950,000, a $100,000 increase from 2018.)

Coley, Lanning and Schumann aren’t the only coaches being rewarded for sticking around — in title as well as salary. Offensive line coach Sam Pittman will be Smart’s new associate head coach, running backs coach Dell McGee will be the running game coordinator and wide receivers coach Cortez Hankton will be the passing game coordinator.

Seven new assistants highlight Alabama’s 2019 coaching staff

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It’s become an annual thing at this point: Nick Saban‘s assistants, ready to see the sun again after life on Planet Saban, hop aboard the first spaceship that flies by, so Alabama simply reloads and hires essentially a new staff.

While many of the hires had trickled out over the past six weeks or so, Alabama on Friday announced Saban’s full 2019 on-field coaching staff:

Steve Sarkisian — Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Charles Huff — Associate head coach/running backs
Holmon Wiggins — Wide receivers
Kyle Flood — Offensive line
Jeff Banks — Tight ends/special teams coordinator

Pete Golding — Defensive coordinator/inside linebackers
Brian Baker — Associate head coach/defensive line
Charles Kelly — Associate defensive coordinator/safeties
Sal Sunseri — Outside linebackers
Karl Scott — Cornerbacks

“We are excited to be able to assemble such a talented group of coaches to develop our players both on and off the field,” Saban said. “These coaches have a great mix of energy, enthusiasm and experience that will be a tremendous asset to our program. They are all excellent teachers of the game and fantastic recruiters who bring a wealth of experience to our staff.”

Only Golding, Banks and Scott were on Alabama’s staff for the title game beat down the Tide suffered at Clemson’s hand last month.

Sarkisian, of course, called plays for Alabama’s first title game loss to Clemson before leaving to become the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator, where he was scapegoated for the club’s failure to make the playoffs last season. Flood, the former Rutgers head coach, was Atlanta’s assistant offensive line coach for the past two seasons. He was also under a show-cause that did not expire until September.

Huff and Baker worked together at Mississippi State, while Sunseri was the defensive line coach at Florida and Wiggins the wideouts coach at Virginia Tech. Kelly spent 2018 as the safeties coach and special teams coordinator at Tennessee but is best remembered for his run as the defensive coordinator at Florida State.

Not among the names announced Friday: Butch Jones. The former Tennessee head coach spent 2018 as an analyst for Saban but did not get promoted to the varsity for 2019.

BYU taps Texas State’s Eric Mateos as new OL coach

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Kalani Sitake‘s coaching staff is whole again.

In mid-January, Troy announced that it had hired BYU offensive line coach Ryan Pugh as the Sun Belt Conference program’s offensive coordinator.  A month later, Sitake filled that hole by announcing the hiring of Eric Mateos as the Cougars’ new line coach.

Mateos has a connection to Sitake’s BYU staff as he worked in 2016 as an offensive line graduate assistant under Jeff Grimes, who is now the Cougars’ offensive coordinator.  That same season, Mateos was promoted to tight ends coach following the dismissal of Les Miles as head coach.

“Eric is a great person with quality character that will fit in phenomenally with our players and staff,” Grimes said in a statement. “He will take our young group a step further and is a master at building confidence and group cohesiveness. I know our players will really respond well to him.”

The past two seasons, Mateos has worked at Texas State as the Bobcats’ line coach.

North Texas turns to FCS Eastern Washington for new OC

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Nearly three weeks after losing its offensive coordinator to a Pac-12 school, Seth Littrell has filled that void on his North Texas coaching staff by dipping down to a lower level of football.

UNT has confirmed via a press release that Littrell has tapped Bodie Reeder as his new offensive coordinator.  Reeder replaces Graham Harrell, who left late last month to take the same job at USC.

The 32-year-old Reeder has spent the past two seasons as the coordinator at FCS Eastern Washington.  Prior to that, Reeder served as an offensive quality control coach working with quarterbacks at Oklahoma State for three seasons.

“Coach Reeder is one of the brightest young offensive minds in the country and we are happy to have the opportunity to bring him to Denton,” the head coach said in a statement. “He has been successful at all of his career stops at several levels of college football, most recently at Eastern Washington and Oklahoma State. I can’t wait to bring him into our family and culture and give him the opportunity to leave a great mark on our program.”

Reeder began his coaching career at Wisconsin-Stout after graduating from Eastern Illinois in 2010, spending his time at the Div. III program as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.