Vince Lombardi once said “Winning isn’t everything—but wanting to win is.” It seems longtime Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, and Lombardi admirer, will forever be remembered as the coach who turned a blind eye to a defensive coordinator who turned out to be a serial child molester of boys all in the name of winning. In Joe Posnanski’s new biography “Paterno” the author regales the reader with an inside look at the life of Penn State’s iconic coach. With unprecedented access to Paterno and his family, Posnanski sheds light on Paterno’s legacy from the strong bonds, good and bad, developed with his former players to his seemingly lack of empathy surrounding the Sandusky scandal and everything else unrelated to football.
Presumably, most readers will turn straight to the chapter titled “Sandusky.” Unfortunately, there is nothing in this chapter that adds new light to what Paterno knew about the scandal. What we do learn is Paterno and Sandusky had a rocky relationship and their style from life at home to football was very different. Paterno scoffed at Sandusky for spending more time with his Second Mile charity and with the kids then with recruiting and football. Paterno always felt Sandusky was looking for the spotlight wanting to steal his job. He almost felt threatened by the relationships the players had with Sandusky. Nonetheless, the question remains in the reader’s mind, if Paterno hated Sandusky so much, why didn’t Paterno do more after the 2001 incident? As the allegations poured in, Paterno even stated he wished he had done more.
“Paterno” does not paint Paterno as this horrible monster, rather, more of a head coach who was indifferent to everything around him consumed by winning. Posnanski, albeit brief, tells us of how a kid from Brooklyn with a Brown education ended up at a “cow college” and from a young age had an unprecedented desire to win. And with an obsession for strategizing and formulizing an unseen suffocating 4-4-3 defense, Paterno became the winningest coach in NCAA history. On the outside he came off as a coach and a family man who taught the values of academics, discipline, and integrity, but in reality, he didn’t spend much of his time with his family. His passion and drive was football. This doesn’t make him a bad person, it makes him human. It’s the public and media that labeled him an icon and saint. All Paterno wanted to do was outcoach his opponents and ensure his players would be the first to run to the ball.
“Paterno” is a very matter-of-fact autobiography that does not hide from the truth. Posnanski, with extraordinary access, paints a picture that chronicles the life of a man who dedicated his adult life to a football program he built from the ground up. You see a man so consumed with winning, that when the scandal broke Paterno was more concerned about the upcoming Nebraska game than the actual victims.
He was so focused on football and winning, he did not fully grasp the concept or seriousness of the situation. As objectionable as possible, Posnanski painted us a picture of the legendary coach. Fortunately as subjective observers, we have the benefit of being the judge and jury of how Joe Paterno will be remembered in college football lore.
This book is certainly worth a read.