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Joe Paterno’s 400th Victory is Just Another Day at the Office

Posted on November 06, 2010 by Dean Hybl

Joe Paterno and his players celebrate the coaches 400th victory.

After Penn State University rallied from a 21-0 deficit to defeat Northwestern University 35-21 on Saturday evening it seemed the only people not focused on the historical significance of the victory were Penn State head coach Joe Paterno and his wife Sue.

While the game announcers and crowd were celebrating the fact that the win was Paterno’s 400th as head coach of the Nittany Lions, to the man who has been at Penn State since 1950 and the head coach since 1966, the most important thing was that his team had rallied from a big deficit to defeat a pesky Wildcats’ team for their sixth win of the season.

When asked about the significance of the milestone victory, Paterno first wanted to talk about the comeback, Northwestern and what a good job head coach Pat Fitzgerald was doing with his team.  “I was just delighted to see us comeback. I thought the kids hung together and I was real proud of them. I think Pat [Fitzgerald] is doing a great job and I was worried sick about them.”

Finally when asked about what has motivated him for all these years, Paterno thought for a second, chuckled and then said, “Getting paid.”

It was just another reminder that unlike many coaches today who are about spin and creating an image, with Paterno what you see is what you get. And it appears the same can be said for the woman who has been by his side throughout his entire tenure as head coach.

Who is College Football's Most Iconic Coach of All-Time?

  • Joe Paterno (40%, 40 Votes)
  • Paul "Bear" Bryant (36%, 36 Votes)
  • Knute Rockne (14%, 14 Votes)
  • Eddie Robinson (4%, 4 Votes)
  • Bobby Bowden (2%, 2 Votes)
  • Amos Alonzo Stagg (2%, 2 Votes)
  • Bud Wilkerson (2%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 100

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When the coach didn’t provide a good sound bite about his milestone win, ESPN sideline reporter Heather Cox turned to Sue Paterno and asked her what the win meant to her husband.

“We haven’t talked about it, I’ll let you know after we do,” was probably not the quote Cox was looking for, but it shows that the Paterno’s are indeed a perfect match for each other and also the town they have called home for so many decades.

It is almost impossible to comprehend just how much the world has changed in the 44 years since Joe Paterno posted his first victory as a college football coach on September 17, 1966 against the University of Maryland.

While the United States has endured ups and downs under the leadership of nine Presidents, the Super Bowl has evolved from a curiosity to a national staple, computers have gone from the size of buildings to the size of business cards and on and on, a professorial looking football coach in a small Pennsylvania college town has provided one constant reminder that sometimes substance is more valuable than flash.

There certainly isn’t anything particularly flashy about Paterno and the Penn State Nittany Lion football program. At a time when some schools like the University of Oregon sport new uniforms just about every week, the only thing significantly different about the uniforms worn by the Nittany Lions today compared to 40 years ago is the addition of the Nike swoosh.

As they have done for more than 40 years, Penn State continues to win around the foundation of running the football, playing great defense and minimizing mistakes.

Except for his gray hair not much has changed about Joe Paterno's look over the last 45 years.

With his old style glasses, necktie, blue windbreaker and solo focus on the game at hand, if it wasn’t for his graying hair and slightly slower walk you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Joe Paterno on the sidelines in 1966 and 2010.

Though Joe Gagliardi of St. Johns University in Minnesota and Eddie Robinson from Grambling have won more college football games than Paterno, his place as the winningest coach among major college football programs is secure.

He has won more bowl games (24) than any other coach in college football history and with one more win this season will secure his 39th winning season.

Twice Paterno’s Penn State teams have been declared the official “National Champion”, but in the days before the BCS title game Paterno had five undefeated teams that were not crowned as the top team in the land.

Reaching the 400 victory mark provides just another opportunity to celebrate the greatness of this man who is much more than “just a football coach.” How many coaches have a college library named after them or have given millions of dollars to their university for things other than sports?

But at age 83, even while reaching such a monumental milestone there are the obligatory discussions of whether it is time for Paterno to turn in his windbreaker and yield his spot on the sidelines.

With Penn State trailing 21-0 in the second quarter, game announcers Sean McDonough and Matt Millen (a former Penn State player) discussed whether it was time for Paterno to retire since the Nittany Lions were not having as successful a season as in past years.

I guess it is the world we live in that a coach who has gone 51-13 in the five seasons prior to this one could be the subject of discussions about whether it is time to quit. Of course the Nittany Lions were 26-33 in the five years prior to the recent run, but like all great coaches, Paterno has proven that he still knows a thing or two about building a winning program.

Regardless of when Paterno does finally decide it is time to step aside, there is little doubt that there will never be another coach like the “King of Happy Valley.”

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