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Penn State History Lesson: The Time Joe Paterno Tried To Leave For USC

Long before there were rumblings about James Franklin leaving Penn State for USC, another Nittany Lions coach almost headed out west to join the Trojans.

That’s right. Former Penn State football head coach Joe Paterno once nearly left Happy Valley to become a coach in sunny southern California.

This small history lesson was recently dug up by Matt Brown of The Athletic. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1969, Paterno revealed he was all for heading towards the beaches and movie stars of the West Coast.

“I wanted to come to California,” Paterno said back then. “But no one else wanted to come to California, and that was that. I stayed at Penn State, and that’s where I plan to be for a long time. It’s interesting to think about what might have happened, though.”

The 1969 version of Paterno was right, and he ended up coaching the Nittany Lions for 45 years to pile up 409 wins. But back in 1956, things were different.

Rip Engle, Penn State’s head coach at the time, was offered a job at USC, which would allow him to bring his staff with him. Unable to make up his mind, Engle had his assistant coaches vote on the matter. The assistants voted 7-1 to stay in Happy Valley. The one vote to leave? You guessed it: Joe Paterno.

“I wanted bright lights and sunshine and starlets,” Paterno said. “I may not look like it, but I once was a pretty good swinger.”

Not only did JoePa want to leave for USC, but he was apparently pretty upset no one else wanted to at the time.

In a 1969 interview with the Sunday Patriot-News, Engle said that Paterno gave a pep talk to the staff about why they should become Trojans. Former Penn State assistant JT White also said that Paterno was “furious” about the decision to stay in Happy Valley, according to PennLive.

But it was certainly in Penn State’s favor Paterno was outvoted so heavily on that winter night in 1956. Although he might’ve been young, single, and into the beachy nightlife of mid-50s Hollywood at the time, JoePa was eventually happy with how things worked out.

“But knowing what I do today, I wouldn’t change a thing,” Paterno said.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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