Gagliardi on Paterno: ‘Pontius Pilate group hastened his death’

I don’t know why [Joe Paterno] even should have been connected to that thing (scandal). It’s sad he’s attached to that thing. I don’t know all the (facts). He wasn’t the guy, the culprit. I really feel pretty saddened about it.. I just wish they had not hastened his death with all the stress they heaped on him at the end. Underserved, I feel. It was a Greek tragedy, and the Pontius Pilate group hastened his death. He had to die of a broken heart.- John Gagliardi

Gagliardi on Paterno: ‘Pontius Pilate group hastened his death’

John Gagliardi had recruits in his office today. It was business as usual for the 85-year-old St. John’s coach who hold the record for college football wins (484). Gagliardi interrupted his visit with recruits when he received a phone call to discuss Joe Paterno, the former Penn State coach whose 409 victories are the most in major college football.

Paterno died Sunday after suffering from lung cancer, broken bones and what former Nittany Lions player Matt Millen claimed was a broken heart from the scandal that rocked Paterno’s program and cost him his job.

Over the years, when asked when he would retire, Gagliardi often mentioned he and Paterno were only a month apart in age and Paterno still was going strong. That changed in November when Paterno was fired after the shocking news that one of his former assistants was an alleged pedophile. Paterno was criticized for not doing enough once he learned of the allegations.

Considering their ages and accomplishments, it made sense to ask Gagliardi about Paterno.

BS: How should Paterno be remembered?

JG: I don’t know why he even should have been connected to that thing (scandal). It’s sad he’s attached to that thing. I don’t know all the (facts). He wasn’t the guy, the culprit. I really feel pretty saddened about it. I wish I could say I was a close friend. The amazing part is, we were both born in 1926, a month apart, and both our ancestors were from southern Italy. It was a one-way admiration thing. I don’t even know if he knew I existed. I admired him the way you’d admire any great guy. And I always will admire him. I just wish they had not hastened his death with all the stress they heaped on him at the end. Underserved, I feel. It was a Greek tragedy, and the Pontius Pilate group hastened his death. He had to die of a broken heart.

BS: That’s what Matt Millen said.

JG: I feel pretty bad about it.

BS: Did his death hit you especially hard because you’ve been contemporaries for decades?

JG: Yes. I’ll say it did. It’s almost like losing a close friend.

BS: How well did you know him?

JG: We exchanged notes a number of times. That’s about it. I wish I knew him better. I’ve never been a guy to foist himself on someone else. I’ve had the good fortune to be invited to different campuses, like Ohio State and the U of Tennessee, and they had me to speak. Unfortunately, I never went to Penn State.

BS: Is Paterno’s death a reminder how quickly things can change?

JG: Yeah. It’s kind of amazing. Who would have thought early in the season or even midseason, or when he broke the record, that this would come to pass? That he’d be fired? That was unheard of. I can’t imagine the stress the poor guy had after that. His death, my God, it’s unbelievable.

BS: Did you talk to him after the scandal broke?

JG: No, I didn’t. I thought he had enough on his plate. I don’t know how you could even get through to the guy.

BS: Do you have any plans of retiring?

JG: Until I retire, I guess you’ve got to keep asking it. I’ll keep answering it and say, “No.” I hate to even mention it, but everything is going to come to an end. If his (Paterno’s) life had to come to an end, everybody’s has to. I have to enjoy every day I can.

BS: Does Paterno’s death make you think about your own mortality?

JG: I’ve thought about that for a long time. I’ve attended a lot of funerals, and every time I’ve realized, “My God. This is the end of another life.” It’s hard to believe sometimes. I always kidded about there’s no way I can coach for another one or two more decades. Now I have to run that down to one or two more months. (Laughs.)

BS: Retirement works for some people, but are there some people who should never retire?

JG: Unfortunately, (Paterno) said that. He said he doesn’t golf, doesn’t fish, doesn’t do all these things. He said he likes what he’s doing, and he’d keep doing it. I think if all this tragedy had not fallen upon him, he might still be alive and still coaching. I’ve always been a big believer that unrelenting stress is a killer. I’ve had a lot of stress, but fortunately it ends at the end of the football season.

BS: How is your health?

JG: It’s good. We had a little scare with my wife. We thought it was the flu. We took her to the hospital, and they put in a pacemaker. We didn’t know she was having a problem with her heart. It’s a reminder anything can happen to anybody.

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Gagliardi on Paterno: ‘Pontius Pilate group hastened his death’
Bob Sansevere
January 23, 2012
Pioneer Press / TwinCities.com

Topics: Joe Paterno, John Gagliardi

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