High-profile coaches walk a tightrope. Fans like student-athletes to conduct themselves appropriately on and off the field, but coaches know that good character only goes so far if the team isn’t winning games.
In a perfect world, a coach makes his point without sacrificing too many wins, but this isn’t a perfect world, and suspending your most talented players often results in more losses than wins.
And if you win without taking disciplinary action, critics say the coach or school has a “win at all costs” philosophy.
Plenty of coaches talk about the importance of character, only to bend or break the rules and look the other way when some of their characters are acting inappropriately.
Fortunately, some coaches focus on doing the right thing. One such coach happens to be a living legend in major college football with more than 360 wins to his credit, 80-year-old Joe Paterno.
Last spring, six of his Penn State football players were arrested for crimes stemming from an off-campus fight in which at least 15 Nittany Lions were present.
According to a report on Yahoo! Sports, the charged included a couple of star players, although what apparently bothered Paterno the most was how many of his kids were willing to be involved.
Reportedly, Paterno was willing to let the legal and student judicial process play out, but he decided that to keep people from thinking his team was trash, it’ll spend the fall literally cleaning up.
The result is that the Penn State football team will join other club sports teams at the university and help clean Beaver Stadium after each home football game this fall, picking up garbage, sweeping stairs and more.
And it won’t just be the players involved in the fight doing the clean-up. It will be everyone on the team.
Paterno said, “Not just the kids that were involved. ’Cause we’re all in it together. This is a team embarrassment. I wouldn’t call it anything much other than that.
“I just thought that hey, we had 14, 15 kids—I don’t even know how many—that were involved in something embarrassing, and I think we need to prove to people that we’re not a bunch of hoodlums,” he said.
Among the projects the team undertook this summer was building a house for Habitat for Humanity and volunteering for the Special Olympics. But arguably the worst and unpleasant punishment will be cleaning up the mammoth 107,282-seat stadium.
“I don’t condone (the fight),” Paterno said. “Our kids were wrong.”
Yahoo! Sports writer Dan Wetzel wrote, “And across the nation college football coaches faint. They no sooner would wear out their players on an off-day with garbage picking than give up their country club memberships.
“At too many places in college football, the kids are never wrong. Punishments often are things that actually help the team: more running, early-morning weightlifting. It is rarely public, rarely embarrassing and never, at least to my knowledge, a blanket shot across the entire team, a true call for leadership and shared values.”
Wetzel writes, “But this is why Joe Paterno is Joe Paterno. He isn’t worried about hurt feelings. He isn’t worried about potential recruits. He isn’t worried about guys sacking garbage on Sunday morning.
“He’s worried about the reputation of his players, his program and his school. He’s worried about cleaning things up immediately, starting with the stadium.”
If more coaches would clean up their programs, what a wonderful world this would be.