09.07.11

Joe Paterno Must Retire

He was once a great football coach, but now he’s hurting the Penn State program—and injuring himself. Buzz Bissinger on the blindness of great men grown old.

The old man had been there when they ran onto the field of Beaver Stadium the first Saturday this September.

He had been there many times before. He liked running out with the young men he called his boys since he too had once been a boy and a young man.

The old man had been running out with the young men he called his boys for 45 years. This would be the 46th year for the old man.

He was a humble man in most ways in most of his life. He just called himself Joe. Some who knew him called him JoePa. The sportsboys referred to him in the copy as Joe Paterno. He had once shown grace under pressure. He had shown the courage that the courageous must have. His aim had once been steady and true. From 1978 to 1986 the young men he called his boys had played for the national championship four times and won twice. The old man once stood for everything that a man should be. He was clean and straight and taught the young men he called his boys to be clean and straight.

He had won more games than any of the other old men who had spent their lives coaching. But the years had now made him an old man. The glasses on his face grew bigger and bigger. They covered most of his face now. He had turned 84. The welterweight had turned frail. The old man could not even get out of the way anymore of the young men he called his boys, even though they were his boys and did not want to hit the old man because they knew he would crumble. But he kept getting hit.

He kept breaking the limbs that had once been fresh and strong. The old man thought he was being courageous, maybe. He had lost the meaning of courage. Only the great DiMaggio had known when to go. The old man was no DiMaggio.

The old man needed to leave. He could not leave because a weak man thinking he is a strong man never knows when to leave. The old man knew he was being selfish. He was the most selfish in what he did now. It was time to go. All men must go.

Maybe the old man did not know because he lived and worked in the place called Penn State in a place called Happy Valley in nowhere Pennsylvania. Everybody was happy in the place called Penn State in a place called Happy Valley in nowhere Pennsylvania. The young men and women who went there drank like upstream salmon and studied in between switching kegs at kegger parties. It had been named the No. 1 party school in the country in 2009.

This was good.

Maybe the old man needed a few beers. Maybe the old man would have realized he had gotten hit enough by the young men he called his boys. The old man was a danger to himself.

The old man thought he was being courageous, maybe. He had lost the meaning of courage.

The old man actually wasn’t there when the young men he called his boys ran onto the field of Beaver Stadium on the first Saturday in September at the place called Penn State in a place called Happy Valley in nowhere Pennsylvania. He could no longer run because he needed a cane. He had to watch the game from upstairs.

The old man had been practicing with the young men he called his boys this last August before September. He had gotten hit by one of the young men during a drill in running. The old man had injured his right shoulder and hip. The son of the old man was named Jay, is a coach like the old man is a coach, and he said it was nothing more than a blip on the radar. The son Jay said the old man would not retire. The son is even more out of it than the old man.

The old man had hurt himself in a practice in 2008. The young men he called his boys had not even touched him. The old man was demonstrating an onside kick when he injured his hip. The hip he injured was ultimately replaced. The young men he called his boys must have all agreed that it was very hard to hurt yourself demonstrating an onside kick.

The old man had been hurt before the onside kick. He was on the sidelines in the Wisconsin game in 2006 and could not get out of the way quickly enough. He was hit by a player and broke his leg.

Three times in the past five years the old man had been seriously hurt while instructing the young men he called his boys. It had to be some kind of record. Hip replacements when you are in the middle of your age are not a good thing. Hip replacements when you are in your 80s are a bad thing.

The old man was not even very good anymore with the young men he called his boys. They had played 13 games for the old man in the last season and had won only seven. The whole last decade had not been very kind to the old man. He had had four losing seasons. That’s because he was an old man. He had lost the grace. He would not recapture it.

There was a college president at the place Penn State in a place called Happy Valley in nowhere Pennsylvania. His name was Graham Spanier. He should have insisted to the board that the old man retire before he hurt himself even more. He was afraid of the old man even though he was a college president.

The old man was a major college football coach. The old man was legendary because of what he had once done. It did not matter that he would likely hurt himself again if he remained on the sidelines. It did not matter he could no longer coach. Or go on recruiting trips. It did not matter that he was hurting the program.

If the old man wants to coach from beyond the grave, the old man will coach from beyond the grave. He is a major college football coach. The president is nothing compared to him.

This is true not just in the place Penn State in a place called Happy Valley in nowhere Pennsylvania.

This is true everywhere. It is not good. It is the truest loss of courage.