The Implausible Image Reconstruction of Joe Paterno

Award Winners, College Football, Football, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, Players, Politics

The Joe Paterno image reconstruction has entered the last vestiges of rebuilding a myth that was undone months before Paterno’s death. For a man who dedicated his life and put forth the pretense of doing things differently—and “right”—while crafting an unassailable persona of delineating between what he did and what the likes of Barry Switzer did at the University of Oklahoma, the memory of decency and adhering to principles is all that’s left and the family is taking great pains and presumably undertaking significant expense to salvage whatever’s left of that crumbled persona.

Paterno took pride in not recruiting the type of player who wouldn’t go to class; who couldn’t read; who was passed through because of his skills on the football field and the money he could bring in by helping the team win; who would commit crimes and get away with them. He did all of this while allowing a pedophile, Jerry Sandusky, to work as his defensive coordinator and stalk his campus even after he was no longer the defensive coordinator. Which is worse?

In this New York Times piece discussing the report commissioned by the family to defend Paterno, it’s noted that Paterno and Sandusky didn’t have a personal relationship; that Paterno didn’t like Sandusky. If that’s the case, why didn’t he fire Sandusky? I don’t mean for the child abuse allegations, but years before just because he felt like it? Even if Sandusky wasn’t accused of these heinous crimes, Paterno was under no obligation to keep Sandusky around if he didn’t want him. Was Penn State’s on-field dominance and recruiting going to suffer without Sandusky? Highly unlikely. Was Sandusky an irreplaceable defensive wizard? The consensus is that Sandusky was a good defensive coordinator, but this isn’t the NFL where there has to be a scheme to suit the players and the head coach’s job was dependent on the performance of his assistants. They could’ve found someone else to install as the defensive coordinator and there wouldn’t have been a noticeable difference on the field.

Did Sandusky have something on Paterno that necessitated keeping him around and letting him run free with his nefarious activities? It’s a viable question. Paterno was so powerful at Penn State that he was able to control the entire campus if not the entire state of Pennsylvania. His power was so vast that could’ve named his wife as defensive coordinator and gotten away with it and, given the talent levels they had, the team would’ve won anyway. In fact, he could’ve put a headset on a monkey and stuck him in the booth with a hat that said, “defensive coordinator” and there wouldn’t have been a marked difference between Sandusky or Sue Paterno doing the job.

This was not a professional sports situation in which a coach has to accept certain mandates in hiring his assistants because of owner desires or other factors. Paterno was basically the “owner.” He could do what he wanted. There are circumstances in professional sports where a manager is told which coaches he’s going to have. We saw it last year to disastrous results with the Red Sox and Bobby Valentine not speaking to his bench coach Tim Bogar, who he saw as an undermining spy (and was right), and not having a relationship with his pitching coach Bob McClure, who was fired during the season.

Veteran managers like Jim Leyland and Joe Torre have had coaches thrust upon them in the past. In all of Leyland’s jobs, there have been “his” guys Milt May, Gene Lamont, Lloyd McClendon and Rich Donnelly. He trusts them and they’re his aides-de-camp. With the Pirates, though, he had Ray Miller as his pitching coach. Leyland and Miller weren’t buddies, but Miller was a fine pitching coach and Leyland had little choice in the matter because Miller was hired by the front office.

In the end, Leyland was going to do what he wanted with the pitchers no matter what the pitching coach said so it didn’t matter who was sitting next to him on the bench and the same was true with Paterno. It was his show. When the aforementioned Switzer took over the Dallas Cowboys from Jimmy Johnson, he essentially inherited an entire coaching staff, many of whom wanted his job and were still loyal to Johnson. Switzer wanted to be Cowboys coach and that was a concession he was forced to accept to make it happen.

This is not unusual. Front offices don’t want managers hiring their buddies and managers don’t want people they don’t trust in their clubhouse. The front office always wins out. Paterno was not in the position where he had to be agreeable about anything. He was the front office and he made the final call.

Much like the saying that there’s nothing more useless than an unloaded gun, what purpose did Paterno’s accumulated power serve if he was more concerned about his legacy and pretentiously ensuring that the image surpassed the reality than with dealing with what Sandusky was doing? I get the impression that Paterno was told about Sandusky and didn’t truly understand what it was he was being told. Whether that was due to old age; a compartmentalized wall he’d built in his mind not to acknowledge that people—especially someone with whom he’d worked for decades—would do terrible things to children; a desire to protect himself, his legend and Penn State; or all of the above was known only to Paterno.

On both sides of a legal argument, anyone can find an “expert” to say whatever needs to be said to bolster the viewpoint of the person who requested the testimony and investigation. They’ll have “proof” regardless of how ludicrous and farfetched it sounds. The family collected credible names in former United States Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and attorney Wick Sollers to provide the defense. These men have lots of credentials, impressive resumes and letters after their names. Not to impugn their impartiality, but since they were paid by the Paterno family, what were the odds they would find fault in what Joe Paterno did? That they would agree with Louis Freeh’s conclusions? You don’t have to come up with a number because I can tell you what it is: zero.

Freeh, the former FBI Director and lead investigator hired by Penn State’s board of trustees in the Sandusky case, had no obvious vested interests. Agree with him or not, it made little difference to him whether Paterno was complicit in any part of the case. If he was innocent, what difference would it have made for Freeh to say so?

In such a public pronouncement and presentation as that of the Paterno family, there are no parameters for the defense. Paterno’s dead and the only dissection and finders of fact will be done and made by the public. Their judgment is not legally binding nor does it have worse consequences than what the Paterno family is currently fending off. They’re saving a monument, not keeping someone out of jail.

Some will be searching for justification of Paterno’s innocence; others seeking confirmation of his ignorance and/or guilt. Each side has their own versions of the facts and individual desires to have them seen as the “truth.” We’ll never know the answer. But if the Paterno family thinks that this report will rebuild “Paterno” as the totem and not the man, they’re as ignorant as Paterno himself was when Sandusky operated with impunity with Paterno the man, wittingly or not, contributing mightily to Paterno the totem’s downfall.

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Jim Tressel And George Steinbrenner

Books, College Football, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Uncategorized

What would one of the most famous alumnus of Ohio State University think of the Jim Tressel scandal and resignation?

Would said individual have joined the brigade of those who leapt off the Tressel bandwagon of success as soon as the allegations of impropriety and rule-breaking forced him to step down?

Or would he have defended his friend?

What would George have done?

The George I’m referring to is the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner—a man who, like Tressel, knew his fair share of scandal and punitive measures being taken against him; and who, like Tressel, had reasons for doing what he did. Whether they were good, bad, self-serving, nitpicky, mean-spirited or politically motivated reasons is irrelevant—nothing was done just because.

If Steinbrenner fired his manager, it was because he wanted to make a change.

If he contributed to Richard Nixon’s presidential re-election campaign illegally, it was because he wanted his candidate to win, circumnavigated legality and was convicted and punished.

If he tried to dig up dirt as a vengeful act against one of his own players, Dave Winfield, and got involved with a sleazy hustler like Howie Spira, it was because he was irate at having been essentially taken in a contract negotiation to sign the star outfielder.

Steinbrenner was friends with Tressel.

In fact, when the college football game dubbed The Boss Bowl was staged at Yankee Stadium last December, Bill Madden wrote about Steinbrenner only being seen wearing one ring other than a Yankees championship ring; that ring was the 2002 Ohio State National Championship ring given to him by…Jim Tressel—NY Daily News Story, 12.28.2010.

How would Steinbrenner have reacted to this mess in which Tressel is embroiled? The mess that cost him his job and sullied his reputation?

I think we know the answer.

As a total outsider and college football neophyte with no connection either way, I have to ask: Considering some of the things that are going on in big, massive moneymaker college sports programs, was Tressel helping his kids make some extra money and gain perks such an awful thing?

So they were trading memorabilia for tattoos—so what?

In 1989, Barry Switzer was forced out at the University of Oklahoma for a series of transgressions by players that included a shooting, drug dealing and allegations of rape—Sports Illustrated 2.27.1989.

Because Switzer won and won and won during his run at Oklahoma, his personal behaviors were never scrutinized to the point where he was either told to rein in his players and himself or he’d have to go. Many winked and nodded at Switzer, envying him for the way he lived his life without pretense or restraint.

But once the scandal erupted and the team wasn’t winning National Championships, it was easier to dump Switzer to show that the university was “serious” about cleaning up its act.

Were they?

Or did they want to put on a show of zero tolerance to get the media and angry public—and donating boosters—off their backs and continue the financial and practical support for the school?

Switzer’s personal life dovetailed with the way he ran his programs, college and pro. He was proud of his lack of hypocrisy as a poor kid who made good; a drinker, partyer and womanizer; the stories of his generosity with money and time are prevalent.

Because Switzer didn’t live with the preferred conservative, made-for-public-consumption face that many like to associate with football coaches, there was always a risk of something terrible happening; after the series of incidents related in the SI story, he was no longer viable as the leader of Oklahoma’s massive football program and once the threat of money no longer coming in from supporters was issued, it was easy to force him out.

How does this relate to Tressel?

The overwhelming sense I get from reading the articles and editorials is that Tressel is viewed as a wily politician who played the angles. If that meant looking the other way when he knew there were violations going on, helped his players line their pockets with feigned ignorance as his personal protective shield, or behaved in a manner that the public Tressel would consider immoral while the private Tressel shut his eyes and ignored what he knew in the interests of winning, so be it.

Part of Tressel’s problem appears to be that image that was so carefully crafted with the ends justifying the means. Quite possibly, in his mind, the young men he was in charge of weren’t doing something so awful that it was a detached brick in the foundation of a downgrading of society; in essence, “it’s just tattoos and the trading of collectibles”; “they’re getting no-show jobs and cars to drive and no one’s getting hurt”.

No harm, no foul. Just don’t get caught.

They got caught.

The integrity of the public and the games weren’t harmed by this as they would with the dealing of drugs or shaving points.

In comparison to some of the stuff the players could’ve been doing, was what they were doing worthy of this outrage?

I find it laughable at the speed in which those who were supposedly ardent supporters and “friends” of people who get embroiled in these types of circumstances abandon them when they’re no longer of use. Tressel wasn’t going to get past NCAA sanctions; his position was impossible to maintain; and the team wasn’t going to be as successful as OSU fans are accustomed with him staying.

That, more than his lying, is the reason he had to go.

Tressel’s rectitude was probably partially real, partially a salesmanship persona. In order to function in that world, it’s necessary. Those aghast at the dichotomy between the public Tressel and the private Tressel need to examine their belief systems. Switzer was the same guy privately as he was publicly; Tressel was being a politician as his “senatorial” image suggests.

Switzer’s players acted with the tacit acknowledgement of the coaches and university supporters, it was okay as long as they won and didn’t wind up in jail or the morgue.

It’s like this everywhere.

Was Tressel being a self-interested liar with ends justifying the means? Or was he functioning as anyone who wants to run a big time college football program has to function in order to win and keep the money rolling in?

George Steinbrenner understood how these things worked and would most likely have supported his friend.

And he wouldn’t have been wrong.

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