A Cup of Good Joe

Published: February 26, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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One of the things that distinguish great sports figures from the rest of the pack is their direct and honest approach to both their work and their life. They consistently strive to live up to their own highest standards for both themselves and the rest of us. A good example is Joe Paterno, Head Football Coach for the Nittany Lions at Pennsylvania State University.

“Almost all coaches leave, sooner rather than later,” wrote George Vecsey for The New York Times. “Except at Penn State, of course, where the man with the thick eyeglasses and the thick Brooklyn patois keeps going, without major scandal.”

Having finished his 60th season on Penn State’s coaching staff, Joe’s approach to the game and life is revealed in a couple of simple, yet challenging statements: “…I have always had the ability to concentrate on what has to be done and not worry about things I can’t do anything about. If I can do something about it, I go after it and try to get it done by giving my best shot. If I succeed, fine, but if I fail I put it behind me.”

When college sports violations seem to be unremitting, Joe’s story reminds us that there are coaches who do play by the rules.

“The principle I try to live by is to treat others as I would like to be treated; be honest and fair.

“An example of a time when my principles were tested was during recruiting some years ago, I tried to recruit a kid out of Cincinnati who was a great, great football player. He would have made a great impact on the success of our football team. I went to his house, sat down and talked with him and his dad, trying to sell them on Penn State.

“The dad said to me at the end of my conversation, ‘Yeah that’s fine coach, but what are you going to do for the kid?’ I asked him what he meant by that.  I said I am going to give him whatever the NCAA grants him. The dad then told me his son couldn’t go to Penn State unless he could get a few extra things. I told the father I couldn’t do that. I wished him my best and walked away from him.

“As much as we would have liked to have that young man be a part of our program, I stuck to my beliefs and followed the rules. The young man ended up enrolling at another institution, who I understand ‘took good care of him,’ and he went on to play professional football. But, I had not sacrificed my principles to get that young man to enroll at Penn State.

Success without honor is like an unseasoned dish. It will satisfy your hunger, but it won’t taste good.”


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