A celebrated coach who aims to produce valuable citizens, not just football players.
“He’s tough as hell but he does things the way they’re supposed to be done. He follows the rules. He believes you’re there for an education. He teaches you more than football. He teaches you about life.”
— Shane Conlan, former All-America linebacker and ex-NFL standout
Joe Paterno was born December 21, 1926 in Brooklyn, New York. Today, after more than 50 years at Penn State, he holds a place in sports history as the most winning college coach.
Paterno started off on the field as a quarterback at Brown University in the late 1940s. There, he played for coach Rip Engle who guided his team to a 15-3 record in 1948 and 1949. Paterno’s relationship with Engle proved more valuable than he could have guessed.
In 1950, Engle brought the 23-year-old Paterno on board at Penn State as one of his assistants. Paterno took over as head coach when Engle retired in 1965 and has held the position ever since.
Paterno’s appearance has been likened to that of a professor and, accordingly, he has insisted that his players focus on academics as much as on athletics.
Under Paterno’s guidance, Penn State has been the consensus national champion two times – 1982 and 1986 – and went undefeated in 1968, 1969, 1973, 1986 and 1994. Paterno is noted for producing notable players like John Cappelletti, Shane Conlan, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Lydell Mitchell and Kurt Warner.
Paterno has been recognized as coach of the year by the American Football Coaches Association a record four times. He was also the first active coach to receive the “Distinguished American” award from the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame. In 1986, Sports Illustrated named Paterno Sportsman of the Year.
Paterno was elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1987.