Legendary BYU football coach LaVell Edwards and former BYU football player Vai Sikahema took the time to remember the life and career of Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who died early Sunday morning at the age of 85.
Paterno was the winningest coach in Division I NCAA football, collecting 409 wins as head coach at Penn State University. In the 46 years as head coach at Penn State, Paterno won the most bowl games of any coach in Division I NCAA history, as well as claimed two national championships with the Nittany Lions.
In an email, Sikahema, who is now the sports director at NBC 10 in Philadelphia, spoke of the many great things Paterno has done for the Penn State community.
“[He] helped thousands of young men who came to play at Penn St.,” Sikahema said. “The library is named after him. There’s not another D-1 coach or in any other division, for that matter, that has the library named after him.”
Having known Paterno for more than 30 years, Edwards agreed that Paterno was just as good of a person as he was a coach.
“Joe Paterno is one of my very favorite people,” Edwards said. “[He’s] an excellent football coach and just a great human being.”
Edwards also said that Paterno influenced the lives of many people during his career including players, coaches and fans alike.
“He had a tremendous influence on all of those who he coached and [all those] in the profession itself,” Edwards said. “He truly is an icon.”
Edwards, who was the coach of the Cougars for 29 years before retiring in 2000, led his BYU teams against Paterno-coached teams three times. In 1989, Paterno and the Nittany Lions defeated the Cougars 50-39 in the Holiday Bowl. Two years later, BYU traveled to State College, Pa., and lost 33-7 in BYU quarterback Ty Detmer’s senior year. The Cougars finally exacted some revenge, though, in 1992, as BYU topped the Nittany Lions 30-17 in Penn State’s only visit ever to Provo.
Even during the unfortunate events that have encompassed Penn State in the last few months with the investigation surrounding former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, Edwards believes that Paterno’s true legacy as an excellent coach, family man and outstanding individual will outlive the scandal. Edwards also said that he will remember him the most by his consistency in everything he did.
“I [remember] those glasses he wore and he never changed them in the 30 years I knew him,” Edwards said. “He wore that same outfit every time you’d see him on the sideline. It was khaki pants with the little blue jacket he’d wear [and a] tie not tied all the way up. When you saw Joe that’s what you saw [and] that part never changed. He was consistent and that’s the way he did things.”
Sikahema will always remember Paterno for a special experience that he had a number of years ago at a sports banquet.
“He told me he had only limited success getting Polynesian players to come to Penn St.,” Sikahema said. “He asked how BYU got so many of us to go there. I told him about the LDS connection to Polynesia because Brigham Young himself sent LDS missionaries there in the 1850s. He leaned back, sighed and chuckled, ‘I’ll be darn. I never thought of that. Brigham Young was truly a visionary to build that school and send missionaries to Tonga and Samoa knowing, perhaps that one day the university would need those warriors. The Spaniards took Catholicism to South America but if they had gone to Tonga and Samoa, we probably would’ve had more of them.’ Then he paused, smiled and said, ‘Well, then Notre Dame would’ve had the pipeline to Polynesia.'”
Paterno’s legend will live on as truly more than a football coach. His legacy will survive in the lives of the many that he coached and associated with throughout his years at Penn State.