The Way I See It: The Jay Paterno Interview

Categories:      News & Politics    Opinion    Sports
Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 at 7:10 AM

Penn State University Football coach Joe Paterno died on Jan. 22, 2012 from Lung Cancer.

A man who spent 62 seasons on the Nittany Lions football staff and became the winningest Division-I coach in the history of the sport before NCAA-imposed sanctions, Paterno would leave this earth with a tarnished legacy (in the eyes of many) amid the Jerry Sandusky scandal and allegations that his inaction to report Sandusky for suspected child abuse allowed for Sandusky to remain a predator in the Penn State system.

Recently, Jay Paterno – the late coach’s son and former quarterbacks coach for Penn State – penned his take – titled Paterno Legacy: Enduring Lessons from the Life and Death of My Father – recounting his father’s life, not only to highlight his accomplishments and career but to attempt to restore his father’s legacy – and moreover – his standing in the public eye.

I was provided an opportunity to speak with Jay during his recent brief visit to Erie, where he spoke to a full house of Penn State alumni and fans at the Fox and Hound about his new book – reading aloud some of his favorite excerpts and addressing questions from the crowd. While I suspected his motivation for writing the story did result largely because of the scandal, I asked him about his inspiration for the work and why it made sense to write it now.

“It started with the events that unfolded in the last years of my father’s life. But as I was writing, I began to realize that the book didn’t just need to be about that,” Jay said. “My literary agent nudged me one way and my family another. But ultimately, the story ended up speaking more to the life he lived and lessons he offered, not just to his students and family but to all those he encountered.”

Jay also had a unique perspective given all of the various roles his father played throughout his life. “I grew up in his house, I went to his college, I played for him – but then I left and came back and coached for him,” he explained. “It truly came full circle after my children were born.  I had the opportunity to see him as father, coach, mentor, friend, husband, and grandfather.”

The book’s foreword is written by Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike Inc. and a Paterno family friend. In the foreword, Knight recalls the day he decided to take down Joe’s name from the Nike child care center at its world headquarters in Oregon; although a long-time supporter and friend, Knight said he needed to do what was in the best interest of the company and the 38,000 employees he had dedicated his life to – although he would struggle continuously with this decision, just weeks later visiting the Paterno household to meet the family. What Jay would tell him that day would temporarily assuage him; however, he wrote that he believes that to this day had the roles been reversed, Joe Paterno would have left his name up – lynch mob be damned.

As for what Jay told Knight? “Dad would have told you to take the name down.”

But strip away the illustrious and now tainted football career, and there’s the family aspect about Joe that Jay felt he needed to capture in the book through some of his favorite memories of his father.

The biggest takeaway from the book? “I felt the need to tell his story, to go through those last few years, and the last couple months of his life, and everything that happened in November of 2011. It was important to address that head-on,” Jay said. “But equally important is that I hope what people understand is that football coaching wasn’t the thing that defined him; it was just what he chose to do and do well, but the masterpiece of his life was about the lessons he gave us all – more about the lives he impacted and less about winning games.”

And as for the way I see it, every story has at least two sides, if not three. This book explores the life and death of a man who spent the majority of his life being lauded and heralded but found denouncement and great criticism at the end. This book – the account of a son making sense of the life of his father – deepens the story of Joe Paterno and is worth your time, regardless of your feelings on the situation. It may afford even more questions than answers, but will definitely offer a differing perspective than what you may already know to be.

Love? Hate? Agree? Disagree? I want to hear from you. Email me at, and follow me on Twitter @rStyn. 

Erie Reader: Vol. 7, No. 21
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