Few coaches have shaped Division I-A college football as much as Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno. Not counting Bowden’s junior college-coaching days or 12 NCAA-vacated wins, these two coaches have combined to date for four national championships, 786 wins, 19 conference titles and 45 bowl game wins. Paterno’s been employed by Penn State University as either an assistant or head coach since 1950, 18 years before Ithaca College completed its move from downtown to South Hill and 26 years before Bowden was hired by Florida State University.
So it’s strange to realize how abruptly both coaches have left their longtime jobs. Bowden “retired” in 2009 to pave the way for the wonderfully named Jimbo Fisher to finally take over as the Seminoles’ coach. I say “retired” because Bowden later admitted he was basically forced out when it became clear Florida State wouldn’t renew his contract if he tried to stay.
Paterno, of course, announced that he would retire at the end of the 2011 season in the aftermath of the revelation that he failed to report child molestation acccusations against his former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky to the police, only to be “relieved of his duties” less than 12 hours after announcing his retirement plans. Instead of doing the right thing and going to the outside authorities, Paterno merely told what he knew about Sandusky to his school’s Athletic Director and Vice President for Finance and Business, both of whom now face charges of lying to a grand jury investigating the situation. Oh yeah, the President of Penn State just got ousted for his part in the cover-up.
It’s an ugly way to go out for the winningest coach in Division I-A history. That’s especially true because Paterno was renowned for his reputation as the opposite of the stereotypical corrupt college coach: humble, hard-working, smart and passionate about education. But I can’t say I disapprove of the decision, other than to wonder if Paterno’s prepared to coach the rest of the season under such intense public scrutiny.
Joe Paterno may have coached his team to 409 wins. But his actions in failing to stop a horrible crime were unthinkable. And at least the better part of a decade after he first found about Sandusky’s actions, it was, if you’ll pardon the hyperbole, time for him to pay the price for seeing evil and doing nothing.