'Paterno Legacy'

Joe Paterno. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

IN HINDSIGHT, Joe Paterno wrote, the day after he got fired with a phone call, he wished he had done more. He had not committed a crime, he had not witnessed a crime, he had reported what sounded like a crime to his superiors.

The haters jumped all over that sentence, like it was some kind of a confession that the legendary Penn State football coach had somehow enabled Jerry Sandusky to sexually abuse those kids, while he looked the other way.

The haters spent a lot less time debating the note he scribbled on a pad before going to the hospital, where he died, the note that said, "Maybe the silver lining in this is that some good can come of this."

Jay Paterno says those are the words people should focus on. Says it in his new book, "Paterno Legacy."

It is an honor-thy-father book, describing JoePa's values, his work ethic, his philosophy that you could have big-time football success with honor. It's got some inside-football in it, some humor in it, some hard truths.

The publisher would set deadlines for certain chapters and Jay turned them in ahead of schedule. The publisher blinked in disbelief because writers who turn in manuscripts ahead of schedule are unicorn-rare.

"I told them," Jay said yesterday, "that that is the way I was raised. As a son, as a player, as a coach. Get to a meeting 10 minutes early."

JoePa would have been proud of that. And happy that the portrait Jay paints includes some warts. You could fill two shelves with articles and books about JoePa, that read like nominations for sainthood.

"He would say all the time," Jay recalled, "I wish I was half as good as they make me out to be."

JoePa believed that. I heard him tell his players halfway through an undefeated season, "Praise is like poison, but only if you swallow it."

Sandusky got charged for those crimes and JoePa got crushed in the stampede to judgment that followed. The Freeh Report splashed gasoline on the fire and Jay puts holes in that report big enough for Franco Harris to run through.

"The Freeh Report," Jay says, grinding his teeth. "They didn't interview the key players in the case. They presented things as factual without any evidence to back it up.

"The prosecutors talked to Joe, said he was honest, forthcoming, cooperative. They had all the evidence. The Freeh Report came to a different conclusion without all the facts."

The Penn State trustees swallowed it, the NCAA extorted huge penalties, it became a football scandal and JoePa's legacy was not just muddied, not just tarnished, but dented and battered.

You get the feeling the fight to restore JoePa's legacy won't be over until Jay Paterno says it's over. I share a line from Ibsen's play, "Enemy of the People,'' with Jay: "You don't wear your Sunday clothes when you go out to fight for truth and justice."

And then I ask for his help on something that has been haunting me for over a decade. Sandusky "retired" from the Penn State coaching staff in 1999. Had JoePa told him he would not be the next head coach if and when he retired?

"Yes," Jay said. "It's in Jerry's notes. Plus the state had approved a pension for people who had worked 30 years. And Jerry wanted to devote more time to Second Mile, the charity that helped at-risk kids.''

In 2001, Sandusky wrote a book called "Touched." I interviewed him, asked him why he only devoted a page and a half to Paterno, after working under him for three decades. And then I asked about the relationship between the two men.

"Joe didn't like it," Sandusky said, "when I horsed around."

Did I squander the chance to uncover those deep secrets Sandusky was hiding? Horsed around? With assistant coaches? With players? With Second Mile kids?

"You're worried needlessly," Jay said. "We'd have those winter workouts at 6 in the morning and we'd end them with some odd competition, tug of war, weird relay races, stuff Jerry thought up.

"There were times Joe would say, 'We've got to focus, it can't be fun and games all the time.' That's what that was all about."

We circle back to hindsight. "When Joe wrote that as part of his statement," Jay recalled, "advisers told him, 'You can't put that in there.' He said, 'That's how I feel!'

"Other people might have felt that way, but he was the only person who had the guts to say it. It shows the generation he came from, the way he lived his life."


Email: stanrhoch@comcast.net.