Joe Paterno, college football icon, completed his fifth undefeated season winning the Big Ten Championship and the Rose Bowl.

Legendary Penn State Football Coach, “Joe Pa” is the most successful college football coach in history having won more games than any other coach in that category. The story of Joseph Vincent Paterno (1926- ) began in Brooklyn where his American-born parents of Calabrian descent lived and where the Brooklyn imprint became so ingrained that it would remain throughout his life. Identifying himself as "an Italian Catholic from Brooklyn," he attended Brooklyn Prep, a renowned Catholic high school where he became the resident "Wop" and where he acquired a deep appreciation for works of Virgil, Thomas Aquinas and Nathaniel Hawthorne, as well as the stirring music of Giuseppe Verdi. He and his brother George attended Brown University where he played quarterback and his brother played fullback. Although Joe's playing was regarded as "rag-tag" he also was extremely perceptive regarding the game of football and most important, he knew how to win -qualities that would serve him well in the future.

Upon graduation in 1950 Paterno went to Penn State University as assistant coach until 1965 when he assumed the job of head coach, a position he continues to hold 37 years later as of this writing. In the course of that tenure he has re-written the book regarding college coaches in terms of longevity and total victories. In 1994, he completed his fifth undefeated season winning the Big Ten Championship and the Rose Bowl along the way. In 2001 he broke the record of 323 victories as head coach previously held by legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant of the University of Alabama and continues to add to the total. He was the only coach to win the Sugar, Orange and Cotton Bowls, the only one to coach five unbeaten, untied seasons, and two undisputed national champions. He also has more bowl wins (20) than any coach in this history of the sport. Numerous Penn State players have received prize football awards and have gone on to illustrious careers in professional football. However, winning football games is not the exclusive goal of Joe Paterno who takes as much interest in their personal and family lives as in their athletic talents. Retaining his life-long interest in the writings of Virgil, Aquinas and Hawthorne, he is adamant about scholarship, constantly demanding regular class attendance and successful academic work. He takes particular pride in the college's graduation rate that sees 80% of the players satisfying degree requirements -a rate second only to Notre Dame University. This becomes even more meaningful when contrasted with so-called football factories whose graduation rate is between 30 to 40 percent.

Comporting himself with admirable professional dignity, Paterno has on occasion given vent to strong emotions -even at 75 years of age, he continues to demonstrate an intense passion for the game. This passion evokes positive response from his young football players who regard him as an old man but really "cool." Remarkably, despite his longevity in the business that ordinarily would find others becoming a bit complacent, Paterno retains such zeal for the game that he continues to produce one of the nation's premier football programs, one that is always in the race for the National Championship. Always a class act, Paterno’s interest in the education of young people extends beyond the realm of football. His fund raising efforts on behalf of Penn State University have resulted in him “giving back” millions of his own dollars towards the development of the institution and he is personally involved in additional worthy charitable and philanthropic pursuits.

Other estimable college coaches of Italian ancestry include: Lou Little (Piccolo) of Columbia University, Carmen Cozza of Yale University, Buff Donelli of Duquesne University and Columbia University, of an earlier era. Coaches who have made considerable impact in recent times include Lee Corso, at Indiana University, Foge Fazio, at the University of Pittsburgh, Chuck Amato at North Carolina State University, Dennis Francione at Texas A&M, and Paul Pasqualoni of Syracuse University.

By the end of 2008, 82-year-old Joe Paterno had set a record of coaching college football at one institution longer than any one else – moreover he was still churning out premier teams with Penn State playing University of Southern California in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2009. His contract was extended three years. Paterno holds the record for the most victories by a Division I teams as well as more bowl game wins and more undefeated seasons than any other coach in college football history.

Beaver Stadium, Home of the Penn State Nittany Lions
Coach Paterno, ever passionate

View Previous Entry     View Next Entry       Back to Timeline