Built To Last: Joe Paterno & Penn State Football

by Tanner M. on

As the world seems to be crumbling around us, people losing jobs and homes, one thing remains stable for millions across the world…Something to continue to believe in.

Believe deep down in your heart that you’re destined to do great things.
Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno has been coaching at Penn State for 60 years, 44 years as head coach of the Nittany Lions. “JoePa,” as he is known around the country, especially in Happy Valley (State College, PA), has the most wins of any coach in college football history (394), including the most college bowl game wins (24). Among these wins he has 5 undefeated seasons.

Losing a game is heartbreaking. Losing your sense of excellence or worth is a tragedy.
Joe Paterno

Coaches come and go so often in all levels from Pee Wee football to the NFL. There have been around 900+ head coaching changes just in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division 1-A) since Paterno took over the reigns as head coach of the Nittany Lions.

I was reading Built to Last by Jim Collins (affiliate link) and it got me thinking about some institutions and companies that are “built to last.” This brought up JoePa and the question “How has he endured so long at one university, a “traditional football school,” while so many other coaches come and go?”

Years at Brown

Joe Paterno at Brown University

Joe Paterno spent his undergrad years at Brown University, where he played both quarterback and cornerback. He shares the record for most interceptions at Brown with 14. JoePa went on to graduate from the prestigious university where he joined Rip Engle (who coached at Brown from 1944-1949) as an assistant head coach at Penn State.

More than Just a Coach

“they ask me what’d i like written about me when i’m gone. i hope they write i made Penn State a better place, not just that i was a good football coach.”
Joe Paterno

Joe-Paterno-StatueFlickr: matt_rosenberg

To many Pennsylvanians, JoePa is bigger than anyone else in the world. Bigger than many people’s higher powers (whether it be God or whomever), bigger than Santa Claus, bigger than whoever might be the President, for as the President comes and goes but JoePa still remains.

He has donated millions of dollars to Penn State and has a library name after the Paterno name. Joe Paterno is more than just a coach. He has “his way” of doing things and has continually stuck to it.

During the 1986 National Championship, the Miami Hurricanes were getting off their plane donned in cameo outfits ready to go to war. Meanwhile, the Penn State Student-Athletes were getting off their plane, following their leader, donned in fine cut suits. At the dinner reception for the 1986 National Championship game, Jerome Brown of the Miami Hurricanes led a “walkout” of his team. Leading the walkout, Jerome asked: “Did the Japanese go sit down and have dinner with Pearl Harbor before they bombed them?” To which his teammates replied “no!” As they were walking out of the dinner reception, a Penn State player replied “Didn’t the Japanese lose the war?” On went Penn State to beat the Miami Hurricanes in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl. To the student-athletes of Penn State it was about respecting their opponents (bred down through from JoePa)…To the Miami Hurricanes athletes, it was about going to war.

When a team outgrows individual performance and learns team confidence, excellence becomes a reality. Joe Paterno

The JoePa core ideology is what signifies the Penn State University, especially Penn State Football. JoePa has turned many people into fans, even evangelists for the university as well as the football team. For years, JoePa has churned out not only athletes (like many schools), but also gentlemen and STUDENT-athletes, with one of the top graduation rates of any team in the country. He is more than just about football, he has a philosophy, a core, and it breeds throughout the entire university, no, throughout the entire nation. From JoePa himself to his staff members, from the players to the students, from the locals in State College to alumni across the world.

The Brand: Penn State Football built by Joe Paterno

This article was just released after I wrote this post but goes to show the brand JoePa built up. Penn State is the 3rd most valuable team in the country (worth almost $100 million).

JoePa could be seen as a leader of a religious movement, for Saturdays in the fall, over 100,000 people gather from around the world together for one reason, Penn State Football. With the leaves changing, Lebanon bologna, Yuengling Lager, coed freshman, the orange leaves, one of the largest stadiums in the world; the Mammoth home of The Nittany Lions in Beaver Stadium, and 100,000+ of your closest “friends” all dressed in white, makes for a perfect brisk fall day.

Happy-Valley-PAflickr: ianturton

100,000+, united as one, to watch their leader JoePa lead the Penn State Nittany Lions out on the natural grass of Beaver Stadium. To watch JoePa with his “Coke-Bottle glasses,” his khaki pant legs rolled up, and his black shoes, white socks roam the sidelines is a sight all college football fans must see. JoePa has built a brand of some of the most passionate fans in the world.

A brand that is more passionate than just about any other brand you can think of, more passionate than the Mac Evangelists, more passionate than the band-wagon Florida Gator fans, more passionate than the Pittsburgh Steelers or Philadelphia Eagles, for JoePa and Penn State mean so much more to them. Penn State Football means so much more to them than players that “sit out” of training camp because they want millions of more dollars so they can “make it rain.”

He has stuck to his core ideology and people bought into it. JoePa stands for a lot more than just Penn State Football. Penn State Football stands a lot more than just Penn State Football. Penn State stands for a lot more than just a higher learning institution. A lot of what Penn State stands for can be attributed to the coach, Joe Paterno.

We Are…

You see, I am a Pittsburgh Steeler fan as well and have been to quite a few games. As much as I toss and twirl my yellow Terrible Towel around and cheer on one of the most respect organizations in all of professional sports, nothing beats the cheer of 55,000 fans on one side of Beaver Stadium cheer “We Are…” to which 55,000 on the other side of the stadium respond with “Penn State.” It is one of those things you have to be there to experience. It is sort of magical. Nothing beats the White Out, a gathering of the most passionate college football fans in the country all donned in white. Penn-State-Notre-Dame Nothing beats a brisk fall Saturday in Happy Valley, cheering on a legend in JoePa and a tradition in Penn State Football.

The Ups & Downs

Just like the greatest companies to ever grace our lives, Penn State Football and Joe Paterno has seen its own share of ups and downs. During the “dark years” of Penn State Football from 2000-2004, many people called for Joe Paterno to “hang up his cleats,” to “give it up and retire,” because he was “too old.” However, just like true JoePa stubborn fashion (who said being stubborn is not a sign of a great leader), and just like he told President Nixon, he told the naysayer to “shove it!”

He believed in himself, he believed in his student-athletes, he believed in the university, and most importantly the university believed in him.

True to being a great organization, a leader that rivals the greatest CEOs of all time such as Jack Welch, JoePa stuck to his core ideology and also evolved. In 2005, he evolved with starting a true freshmen and changing the traditional JoePa style of play. He went on to lead The Nittany Lions to an 11-1 record, and Orange Bowl win, and 2 seconds away from being in the National Championship.

Joe-Pa-Orange-Bowlflickr: nittanyblue2002

You have to perform at a consistently higher level than others. That’s the mark of a true professional.
Joe Paterno

Being able to stick to your core philosophy while progressively evolving is the true sign of a great institution.

Life after JoePa

Some say JoePa will die on the pristine, as if it were hand-cut by students of Penn State, natural grass. When that day comes, it will be as shocking as some of the most tragic deaths in history. It will rival deaths of many of the remarkable people in the world. To many JoePa is their father, grandfather, brother, coach, son, and leader…For the Nittany Nation, it will be one of the biggest losses, for we will not know where to look come Saturdays in the Fall.

Besides pride, loyalty, discipline, heart, and mind, confidence is the key to all the locks.
Joe Paterno

However, JoePa has built one of the most solid foundations in Penn State Football and it will go on with the core ideology he has built. It will most likely go on with one of his home-grown coaches, such as Tom Bradley (of my hometown, Johnstown PA) or Larry Johnson. They will carry the JoePa core ideology with them and will bring the Nittany Nation along with them.

Are you still going to have the desire, the drive, the dream when you are 83 years old?

As the world seems to be crumbling around us, for millions we still have something to continue to believe in…JoePa is a legend..Thanks JoePa

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