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Joe Paterno

Happy In Happy Valley

Paterno remained an assistant coach at Penn State for the next sixteen years. He had started a family with wife Suzanne (they would have five children, all of whom attended Penn State) and felt at home in Happy Valley. When head coach Rip Engle retired in 1966, Paterno was asked to be the new head coach. He had a rocky start, going 5-5 in his first year, but the following season he turned it around and compiled an 8-2-1 record, making an appearance in the Gator Bowl (the first in a long, long line of bowl appearances).

As the seventies progressed, Paterno made the Nittany Lions a dominant force in college football, following back-to-back undefeated seasons (the streak ended at 31 games). Yet in spite of his consistent excellence on the field, Paterno's teams never got the recognition he felt they deserved. For instance, after they went 12-0 in 1973, the team went on to beat Louisiana State University in the Orange Bowl. When the final polls came out, the Nittany Lions were ranked 5th in the nation. Pater-no—to put it mildly—was furious with the results, and he paid to have championship rings made for every player on his team.


1926 Born Joseph Vincent Paterno on December 21 in Brooklyn, New York
1932 Learns early on the value of education over sports—but plays touch football as much as he can
1942 Enters Brooklyn Prep High School
1946 Enters Brown University where he plays quarterback and also returns punts and kickoffs
1949 Brown goes 8-1 with Paterno at the helm
1950 Becomes an assistant coach at Penn State
1962 Marries Suzanne Pohland (together they'll have five children: Diana Lynne, Mary Kathryn, David, Joseph Vincent Jr., and George Scott)
1966 Appointed as head coach of the Nittany Lions on February 19
1968 Records first of five unbeaten seasons at Penn, going 11-0 and beating the University of Kansas in the Orange Bowl
1977 Misses the second kickoff in his career as a coach when his son is seriously injured in an accident; the first was due to the death of his father, in 1955 (hasn't missed a kickoff since)
1982 Captures first National Championship, beating the University of Georgia in the Sugar Bowl
1986 Wins second National Championship, beating Miami in the Fiesta Bowl
1992 Attends opening ceremonies of the Joe Paterno Child Development Center on the campus of Nike, Inc., in Beaverton, Oregon
1993 Penn becomes a part of the Big Ten conference
1993 Brown honors its alum with the scholarship presented in his honor, the Joe Paterno Male Outstanding Freshman Athlete Award
1995 Guides Penn to an undefeated season and a victory in the Rose Bowl. It was to that point the first Big Ten team with an undefeated season in 26 years
1995 Penn State is ranked first as being the college program that best prepares players for the NFL
1997 The Paterno family donates $3.5 million to Penn State to endow faculty positions and scholarships
2001 Earns win 324, which puts him as the career leader in Division I-A football, surpassing previous record holder Bear Bryant

Awards and Accomplishments

1972 Named Coach of the Year by the Walter Camp Football Foundation and the Football Writers Association of America
1978 Football Writers Association of America Coach of the Year
1986 Football Writers Association of America Coach of the Year
1986 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year
1991 National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Distinguished American Award
1994 Receives the Ernie Davis Award, presented by Leukemia Society of America
1996 Earns National Education and Leadership Award by The Sons of Italy
1997 Honored with Duff Daugherty Memorial Award by Michigan State University
1997 Vince Lombardi Foundation Coach-of-the-Year Award

When Penn State finally won a national championship and earned number one status in 1982, Paterno refused bask in the glory of his hard-won national title. According to Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly, Paterno "marched into a meeting of [Penn State] University's board of trustees and, in effect, scolded them. He urged the board to raise entrance requirements and to spend more money on the library.… It may go down as the only time in history that a coach yearned for a school its football team could be proud of."

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsFootballJoe Paterno Biography - Growing Up, Happy In Happy Valley, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Moving On Up - CONTACT INFORMATION