Suffice to say, three and a half years after he was fired amidst controversy and a little over three years after his death, Joe Paterno still has his supporters in the coaching community.
In an interview with The State coinciding with his 70th birthday, Steve Spurrier was asked a question about what he used to think about guys coaching in their seventies. During the course of his answer, the Ol’ Ball Coach swerved into Paterno territory.
Question: When you were 50 years old, what did you think about guys who were coaching in their 70s?
Answer: Well, there weren’t many. There weren’t many because just nobody did it. Nobody lasted that long, and most of the time they didn’t last that long because at some point they quit winning as much as they used to win. Bobby Bowden, of course, went a long time, and they finally had to tell him, ‘You’re finished.’ Joe Paterno was still there. That was very unfortunate what happened up there. I still think he got a bad deal, got a terrible deal.
Q: In terms of taking so much blame?
A: Correct. He did what the head coach is supposed to do. He told the athletic director, and (the AD) and the president let it die down I guess, and of course it flared up later. He was a good guy, a good friend. I liked him.
The fact that the South Carolina head coach offers up words of support for the Penn State coaching legend is far from surprising. Here’s Spurrier’s statement from Jan. 22, 2012, the day Paterno passed at the age of 85:
I have the utmost respect and admiration for Joe Paterno. I’ve coached around 300 college games and only once when I’ve met the other coach at midfield prior to the game have I asked a photographer to take a picture of me with the other coach. That happened in the Citrus Bowl after the ’97 season when we were playing Penn State. I had one of our university photographers take the picture with me and Coach Paterno, and I still have that photo in the den at my house. That’s the admiration I have for Joe Paterno. It was sad how it ended, but he was a great person and coach.
Paterno was dismissed as the Nittany Lions’ head coach in November of 2011, days after the Jerry Sandusky child-sex abuse scandal erupted. The NCAA stripped Paterno of 111 of his career wins as part of the historic sanctions on the football program, but those were ultimately restored in January of this year. That moved Paterno back to being the all-time winningest football coach in DEiv. I history.