Until the scandal that rocked Penn State, St. John’s football coach John Gagliardi often talked about how much he respected Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno and his storied football program.
That program is in shambles today, along with Paterno’s legacy.
Penn State is paying a steep price for its role in the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. The NCAA heavily penalized the university Monday, July 23, ranging from fining Penn State $60 million to vacating its 1998-2011 victories. Paterno, who died in January, had the most victories in Division I football until the NCAA delivered a devastating blow to the former coach and the program.
I talked Monday about the sanctions with Gagliardi, who has had a stellar career in Division III and is the all-time leader in college football wins with 484.
BS: What did you think of all the sanctions against Penn State?
JG: I didn’t know what to expect. I just didn’t have a clue what would happen. You just kept hoping they weren’t going to give them that death penalty. It would not only hurt them, but it also would hurt everyone on their schedule. At least they didn’t do that. They came down on everything else.
BS: Were you surprised all of Paterno’s wins since 1998 were vacated?
JG: I don’t know. In a sense, other than taking it off his record, it doesn’t affect anything else. The players still won the game. They won’t think of it as a loss. So many things have happened to Paterno.
Fortunately for him, he’s gone. He doesn’t have to listen or hear it. In the hereafter, I don’t know what they hear there. Who’d have thought this would have happened? Who could have dreamed all of this would have happened? If it’s all the Freeh report says (about how Penn State handled Sandusky), it’s brutal. I don’t think it could get any rougher than that.
BS: You always held Paterno in high regard. Has your opinion changed?
JG: Where I held him in high regard is how he coached football. That’s all I knew. I didn’t know him personally. I held him in high regard because of football, and he insisted students do well academically. He made a horrible mistake.
BS: So you knew him mostly by reputation?
JG: We exchanged notes. I was in some ways surprised he knew I existed. The (one) time we met, he couldn’t have been any nicer. It was a national football convention in about 2005.
BS: Do you think it will be decades before the Penn State football program recovers?
JG: I don’t know. All I can base my thoughts on is Southern Cal. The last year or so, they took away scholarships and couldn’t go to a bowl game. It didn’t seem to affect them. They had a good year. They had a similar situation with a new coach. They had a lot of things going bad on them, though Southern Cal doesn’t have a Sandusky in the background. There are a lot of good football players out there (at Penn State). They have a good coach.
BS: Is this all a stark reminder that no matter how good things look, so much can change?
JG: That’s for sure. If there ever was a reminder of that, this has to be it. How can you go from the absolute top of the heap to taking down his statue? That’s another thing. You should never put up a statue of anybody alive.
BS: So that means it’ll be another five or six decades before they can consider putting up a statue of you?
JG: Some alumni wanted to put up a statue of me a few years ago. I said, “The birds have enough places to land.” We have a nice forest and a lot of trees. Nobody knows where they’re doing their business. With a statue, they’d know.
BS: You’re at 484 wins. You turn 86 in November. You could break 500 with a couple of decent seasons. Do you plan to coach at least two more seasons?
JG: What I say is this: I got this thing all figured out. I need 16 wins to get to 500, where no man has ever gone. All I have to do is win two games a year for eight years and I’ve got it. If my math is right, I’ve got it. I hope I don’t have to do one win for 16 years.
BS: So are you saying you won’t retire until you get to 500 wins?
JG: I may need 16 years to get it, but I’m hoping to hang in there to get 500.
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John Gagliardi on Joe Paterno: ‘He made a horrible mistake’
Posted: 07/24/2012 12:01:00 AM CDT