No one could blame Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier if he felt a bit conflicted. He is a proud Penn State graduate who enjoyed his association with late head coach Joe Paterno over decades of covering the Nittany Lions football team. But he has also been blunt in his criticism of Paterno's actions — or lack of them — relating to former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's alleged sexual abuse of young boys. Collier's critical remarks have brought him some hate mail from readers.
As he prepared to travel to University Park for today's public memorial service honoring Paterno, Collier took time to assess the long time coach's legacy.
"I think Joe Paterno was always a bigger picture guy," says Collier. "He was a very literate guy who had an appreciation for opera and politics and he was always able to understand his place and football's place in the larger context of everything."
Collier says Paterno's death, which happened 75 days after the unceremonious end of his storied career, was not only a great loss for the Paterno family and the Penn State community, but also for college football as a whole.
"With the various scandals and conference shifting and people just grabbing at any money they can for as long as they can, it's a situation where the entire system is corrupted," Collier said. "And now you have lost a person who had a real vision for college football, and a real idealism about college football, and that, too, is taken away, and it's no small thing."
Paterno amassed more victories than any other Division I college football coach. He was 85.