Joe Paterno and the Steelers – What Almost Was

Joe Paterno - Steelers Head Coach?

Wednesday night, the board of trustees at Penn State University fired football coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier amid the growing furor over how the school handled sex abuse allegations against assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

While there’s only one player on the Steelers roster that played at Penn State – punter Jeremy Kapinos, there ALMOST was a huge connection – that at one point Paterno being the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As pointed out in my September 2010 book “100 Things Every Steelers Fan Should Know and Do Before They Die,” as well as is a part of Steelers history, Paterno was at one point offered the head coaching position of the Steelers.

The story goes is that the Steelers offered their head coach position to Paterno in 1969, an offer he actually considered seriously. Paterno turned down the Steelers, who then went after and hired Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll, who won four Super Bowls in his first 11 years, and coached for an additional twelve seasons.

So while you digest the Penn State situation, no matter how you feel about it one way or another, remember – he almost walked the sidelines of the black and gold.

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4 Responses to “Joe Paterno and the Steelers – What Almost Was”

  1. DrGeorge says:

    Matt, I’m glad you included this news item for comment, not because Paterno was once offered the Steelers’ head coaching job, but because Paterno has been for many years one of the faces of football in Pennsylvania. Directly or indirectly, the incident at Penn State affects all of us.

    Let me begin with this disclaimer: I’ve done time at a number of institutions of higher learning, including a graduate program at Penn State. My times there were happy ones. However, I am not a rabid PSU football fan on that account, nor am I an apologist for the university.

    Having said all of that, I believe Paterno has been shabbily treated by the board of trustees.

    The allegations in the Jerry Sandusky case are appalling and, if true, reprehensible and criminal. But they are only allegations, charges of misconduct. There are apparently credible witness willing to testify to those allegations, but nothing has been proved. Yet, Sandusky himself has already been tried in the media. That is wrong. In a nation governed by law, Sandusky has the right to defend himself in court before such judgments are made.

    As for Paterno, he himself did nothing legally wrong. He passed along the information he received to authorities charged with the responsibility for handling such matters. He did not cover up anything. And he barred Sandusky from the athletic facilities thereafter. In hindsight, Paterno told the press he wished that he had done more. But he had no legal or moral obligation to do any more than he did. He had every reason to assume the university representatives would investigate and act appropriately.

    Yet the board of trustees fired Paterno along with the two school administrators who failed to report the incident to the police. The two administrators may have failed to perform a legal duty. Paterno did not.
    Which strongly suggests that he is being used as a sacrifical goat to expiate the sins of the university by proxy. And the choice was made easier by the fact that some board members apparently felt Paterno had overstayed his welcome as head coach of the football program, but lacked the guts to do anything about it until the scandal gave them a convenient rationale for his dismissal.

    Now consider what Paterno has done for PSU. Not merely the two national championships in football. But the public good. He has run a clean program for all those years. No scandal attached to anything under his control as athletic director. He has raised money for university projects and given millions of his own money to the university as well. He has been a tireless ambassador for the school.

    On balance, was he not entitled to coach the final game of his career and then resign thereafter with dignity, instead of being cast to the wolves most unceremoniously — to satisfy public appearances and a cadre of howling alumni?

    The PSU board of trustees needs a lesson in biblical history. Two thousand years ago, Pontius Pilate tried the same tactic to wash his hands of a troublesome political embarrassment. It proved a temporary fix that ultimately brought discredit on Pilate and his government. By its knee-jerk reaction, the PSU board has done more injury to the reputation of the university than anything Paterno has done or failed to do.

    • Jay says:

      How can you say that he had no moral obligation??? You yourself said you did time at PSU so you MUST know, form firsthand experience, how autocratic it is out there in terms of the town persona adopting that of its leader; add on top of it the fact that coaching staffs know almost everything about each other, and you have a man WHO KNEW MORE THAN WHAT HE SAID HE KNEW, PERIOD! Let him (Sandusky) get tried in the court of law but in the court of public opinion, he is a monster. And, if I saw someone ass-raping a kid in the shower, just go ahead and prepare a fucking cell block for me at federal prison because within three motherfucking seconds, dude’s neck is getting snapped and then I would piss all over his dead body and then drop elbows on him until his fucking brains oozed out of his monster ears! What would you do, Doc!

      • Jay says:

        And now you’re comparing him with Pontious Pilate?!? Really? Wow? I find that what the student body did as asinine and why should I care about paterno’s FEELINGS…HE’s 84! I was glad when my 91 year old grandmother died because SHE WAS 91!!!!!!! I care about the (alleged) children who’ve lost their humanity and spirit!!!! What the fuck. It’s an outrage that anyone would try to intellectualize this, Doc! It…This is visceral on all levels and I refuse to try to COGNITIVELY decipher with codes and litigation what should or could have been done according to this or that. Just go on your fucking inner moral compass, man! This is all kinds of wrong on all kinds of levels. And please don’t try and say that he is innocent until proven guilty….With the entire national media and THE AUTHORITIES and pre-existing documented instances AND a 23 page grand jury report, something happened, maybe the specific exact details are somewhat foggy up to this point but something happened with Sandusky and NUMEROUS young kids that wasn’t good, man! THis is as bad, no it’s worse than when Mendenhall said Bin Laden needed the benefit of the doubt!

  2. Mark says:

    DrGeorge, although I am not a Penn State football fan or alum for that matter, I have to say that I feel Paterno knew more than is being talked about. As much as I hate to agree with a Barry Switzer, he (Switzer) was quite right when he said that staffs are VERY close and that this disgusting issue was known about and even possibly hidden from closer examination. I understand that it is hard for us to accept that a legend like Paterno could be dumped like this, but at the same time the process of cleaning house and showing the world that ANYONE involved in a heinous crime like this is not above discipline in some manner. OK, maybe Paterno isnt guilty of anything other than stupidity? But, in the court of public opinion he knew and could have/should have done more. My dad is a Paterno fan (basically because of our Italian heritage) but even he said NO WAY Joe should keep his job, regardless of innocence or stupidity.Had Paterno gone the extra mile, he might have been a hailed as a hero on and OFF the field. Now he will be associated with a HORRID crime no matter his situation in this mess.

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