Proud: The Saga, And Future, Of Jay Paterno
Jay Paterno represents one of the more intriguing Penn State figures I have ever encountered. There may not be an individual who loves this university the way he does, yet it seems sometimes he receives no love in return from the Nittany Lion faithful. All but four years of his life have been spent in State College; however, until recently, the younger Paterno was never able to fully endear himself to many Penn State fans.
Part of this is easy to understand. Jay became the quarterbacks coach before the 1999 season. In his first six seasons with that job title, the Nittany Lions suffered four losing seasons. Losing seasons were not something fans in Happy Valley were used to and Jay took a decent amount of the blame for poor offenses. Penn State had not developed a successful NFL quarterback since Kerry Collins was drafted after the 1994 season, and that remains the case today. It is worth pointing out, though, that he did coach two All- Big Ten quarterbacks within five seasons in Michael Robinson (2005) and Daryll Clark (2008-2009). Still, there were often more failures than success stories.
It has been discussed all week that winning football games for Joe Paterno was secondary to academics and philanthropy; however, winning football games is, initially at least, what allowed the elder Paterno to make such an impact. Many believed later in Joe’s career that good defenses were wasted and games were lost due to his son’s coaching and play-calling (in)ability.
When one’s job title is quarterbacks coach, it is fair that they be judged based upon their perceived job performance. Still, when one thinks about how Jay has handled himself over the past two months, it is almost impossible not to love him.
Jay has dealt with more emotional pain the last eighty days than some of us will deal with throughout a lifetime. The unthinkable happened when his dad was fired before being admitted to the hospital just a week later. At that time, whether he wanted to admit it or not, Jay had a pretty good idea that he was coaching his final few games at Penn State.
These circumstances did not stop Jay from being a voice for the Paterno family and conducting himself with pure class in every public appearance he made. He provided the classic “post-it-note” interview, spoke to various classes on campus, made trips to Joe’s statue, and, ultimately, did not hide when people looked for a leader.
If the last two months were any indication, everyone inside the Bryce Jordan Center, and those watching the memorial on television, were in for a treat when Jay took the podium today. The man is known to be an excellent writer and speaker, and with all due respect to every other speaker, all of whom were fantastic, the best had been saved for last.
Jay did not disappoint. He spoke eloquently about how his dad preached excellence discussing early experiences in Joe’s life that would indicate the person he would become. He talked about all of the different roles Joe filled outside of being a coach: mentor, father, brother, husband, grandfather. The line of the day came when Jay repeated what someone told him on Wednesday:
“You know, your family isn’t too good at math. Your father has millions of children and grandchildren.”
I do not know about others, but that statement brought chills through my body and tears down my face.
Jay Paterno’s future is unknown, but, wherever life takes him, he will always have a place in Happy Valley as part of the Penn State family. Jay loved his father. He loved his job, and he will always love the Pennsylvania State University. After several years, many are beginning to look past his coaching resume and see Jay for the gentlemen that he is. In many ways, it is ashame that it took this long, and for something as tragic as this to occur, for it to happen.
Say what you want about Jay Paterno as a coach, and plenty has been said (even by me), but I am proud to say he represents our university and always will.