The number is simply staggering.
Think about what Joe Paterno has acomplished in reaching 400 career victories.
For a long time, the standard for an exceptional college football program was 10 wins per season. You don’t need a calculator to figure out that at that pace it would take a coach 40 years to reach 400.
Then to take it to the extreme, it would take nearly 31 seasons going a perfect 13-0 to hit the mark.
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As it is, it took Paterno close to 45 full seasons to pull it off, watching his team win three out of every four times it has taken the field.
He has but two contemporaries, neither of whom has accomplished the feat at the game’s highest level. Eddie Robinson won 408 games at Division I-AA Grambling and John Gagliardi has 477 and counting at St. John’s, a Division III school in Minnesota.
No offense to those guys, but pulling it off at the Division I-A level gives Paterno’s numbers more weight. In Division I, you know what you can’t make chicken salad out of. You need to win the recruiting battles for the nation’s elite athletes.
Paterno is still winning those recruiting battles and communicating with the players he’s coaching, despite being four times as old as those players. It’s like Frank Sinatra being able to sing a duet with Kanye West.
Just six coaches (Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant, Pop Warner, Amos Alonzo Stagg, LaVell Edwards and Tom Osborne) have more than 250 wins equivalent to Division I-A.
The enormity is not lost on the men that have spent much of their professional lives on the practice fields, in the film room and on the sidelines with Paterno.
“I don’t know if it’s possible,” said offensive line coach Dick Anderson, who is in his 33rd season on Paterno’s staff. “I mean Joe is special in terms of his longevity, his persistence and the way he handles people, the way he handles the football team. I don’t know if we will ever see that. They say records are made to be broken, right? But who knows. That’s a tough one.”
“To win 400 games, that will never happen again,” said linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, the former Maryland head coach who is in his 10th season with the Nittany Lions. “It’s just too hard.”
His players agree.
“That’s something that nobody will ever do again,” said linebacker Michael Mauti, whose father Rich and older brother Patrick played for Paterno. “It was a special moment for him, for all those involved and for everybody that played before us. That laid the groundwork for this moment.”
On Saturday, the players received hats that said, “400, The Paterno Way.”While maybe not the most stylish of headgear, the message was highly appropriate.
Paterno, 400-132-3 in his career, has done things his own way. He’ll pass on a recruit with a shaky report card. He’ll bench a star for taking academics too lightly or cutting class.
“Coach puts it best, 400 wins has nothing to do with it, it’s the commitment he has to the players and the things he’s taught them about life,” said defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr., who has been here 15 years. “He’s probably more proud of that than wins, that’s the kind of guy he is.”
In addition to his love of history and academia (the man does have his name on the library), Paterno has shown his commitment to the university. The state respresentatives in Harrisburg would love to have money he’s raised for Penn State.
Aside from the profits from men’s basketball (mostly received from the Big Ten’s television contract), the football program keeps the rest of the school’s 27 varsity sports active.
It’s no wonder the man is so beloved.
We often drive past the Paterno statue located outside of Beaver Stadium off of Porter Road. It’s a rare occasion during daylight hours when you don’t see someone posing for a picture with Paterno’s likeness.
How many wins their beloved coach ends up with is yet to be seen. With birthday No. 84 looming in December, No. 400 may be the last major milestone before Paterno hangs up his black shoes.
It’s why so many had goosebumps and tears in their eyes on the first Saturday in Novemeber of 2010. No. 400 meant as much — if not more — to many people than to the man who had amassed such a remarkable statistic.
“It’s just a special moment,” said defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who has played for and spent all 32 years of his years coaching for Paterno. “It’s a great day for a lot of people and there were a lot of people that contributed to this and I’m sure coach will tell you that too. I told coach, ‘I’ve been here for 100, 200, 300, 400 wins. Do you think we can get to 500?’ So, I put the thought in his head anyway.”
Walt Moody is sports editor of the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at 231-4630 or firstname.lastname@example.org.