A legend is gone: The passing of Joe Paterno and my memory of his legacy.

Zennie Abraham / Zennie62
Zennie Abraham / Zennie62

By Dr. Bill Chachkes-Executive Editor-Football Reporters Online-special to Zennie62…

Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Joe Patern...

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It was 1995, and I had just gotten back into coaching after a 7 year absence to obtain 2 graduate degrees. I had just gotten an assistant coaching position (part time) at my old High School where I played 3 seasons and started 2 of them as the teams’  Punter & Kick off man. I had wanted to be a special teams coach but the position available was to assist the Head Coach with the Offensive Line and the Tight Ends.


Because the Head Coach had been my Head Coach, he was going to teach me how to coach the Offensive Line. Not hard for him since he had been an NFL OL for 6 seasons. “Bill, I’m going to send you to a coaching clinic this spring” he told me. “You’ll get basic schemes there.” He also got me a Book of OL & DL skills.


The clinic was on a Saturday In March In a suburb of Philly but on the New Jersey side. All of the coaches speaking that day were successful NCAA and/or NFL Line coaches. A few told jokes to loosen up the crowd of mostly 20 & 30 something aged High School coaches.  Finally we had the keynote speaker, a former Nebraska Assistant who was now working at Penn State. “Wow” I thought “ this guy coaches for Jo PA, and used to work with Osborne!” I thought to myself.


After he finished his presentation he did the “Oh just one more thing” that Apple’s Steve Jobs would later become famous for. He introduced his Boss!! Out of a side room came the “Little big Man” who was larger then life to all of us in the Biz…


“I don’t have much to add to what you learned here today,” he said crisply. “But I will tell you this. Never forget who you are, and always take the time to listen to others around you, no matter if they are your student athletes or other coaches you work with. You learn just as much by listening as you do by studying.”


Afterwards we were introduced. “Oh your from the Bronx! He exclaimed. Only been up to Arthur Avenue (the Bronx’s Little Italy) a few times but great food up there” he smiled. I thanked him and his assistant for speaking to us that day. I had shook hands with a legend.


Years later the legend would become embroiled in a scandal caused by one of his trusted close friends and assistant coaches. As Educators we are taught to spot students in crisis, all kinds of crisis. In the NYC schools where I worked for more then 25 years, we constantly got training on how to spot kids in sexual crisis.


Where was this training at Penn State?  Even if the coaching staff and for that matter, the entire athletic department, had been given the proper training and follow up, would they have known about the predator in their midst? Did the coach follow his own advice years later when confronted with the issue of Jerry Sandusky’s Darkest behavior?


My one great memory of Coach Paterno was of that early spring day close to 20 years ago. It’s a shame that many others will only remember him for the events of the last several months.

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About the Author

Draftnik is Dr. Bill Chachkes of Football Reporters Online and Zennie62.com He's attended the NFL Draft for three decades.

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Maria Ayerdi Kaplan