By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Joe Paterno almost left Penn State to become coach of the New England Patriots.
He actually had two offers from the Patriots – one in 1973 and another overture in 1982 – but the first one was the most serious.
He actually said yes to the chance to serve as New England head coach and general manager before having second thoughts before he put his name on a contract.
Had Paterno left Penn State in 1973, it’s doubtful that monstrous Jerry Sandusky would have had the opportunity to start his Second Mile Foundation that allowed him to devastate the lives of the most helpless members of society by raping them repeatedly.
Sandusky would still have been a child-molesting threat to society, but he would not have been able to institutionalize his sickness and devastate so many lives with such disgraceful regularity.
If Paterno had left for the Patriots, perhaps a new head coach at Penn State wouldn’t not have turned a blind eye to Sandusky’s activity and he would have ended up behind bars far earlier.
The Pats came after Paterno following the 1972 season. General manager Upton Bell was asked for a list of candidates to become the Patriots’ leader. Bell put Paterno and Oklahoma coach Chuck Fairbanks at the top of the list.
Bell was fired shortly after compiling the list and Patriots owner Billy Sullivan went after Paterno to become the team’s head coach and fill Bell’s general manager position.
While Sullivan was getting a huge payment every year from the NFL’s television revenues, he always liked to save as much money as possible. That’s why he wanted one man to do both jobs.
Paterno came to Foxboro to meet with Sullivan and sign the contract, but he decided the pro game and trying to upgrade a struggling team like the Patriots was not for him. He put down the pen and never signed the contract.
The Patriots went to Fairbanks, the No. 2 option on their list. Fairbanks actually was successful as he drafted offensive guard John Hannah (first round) and offensive tackle Leon Gray (third round) in 1973. The two formed one of the best blocking combinations in the NFL and Hannah is widely considered to be the best guard in NFL history.
Fairbanks helped the Patriots develop into a playoff team, but interference from the Sullivan family kept him from establishing himself. He left the Patriots in 1978, and the team went into another tailspin after that.
The Pats went after Paterno again in 1982, but those talks never got as serious. The Patriots had tried to hire USC coach John Robinson before attempting to hire Paterno, and that was enough to keep Paterno from seriously considering the offer.
After discussing the particulars of the job, he quickly told the Patriots that he was not tempted to leave the Nittany Lions. “I told them I was staying at Penn State,” Paterno told the New York Times. “You’ll always be able to find me at Penn State, where I’ll be for a long time.”
Coaches are often criticized for failing to tell the truth about their employment status. College coaches often make pronouncements like the one Paterno did and end up leaving a short time after declaring their loyalty.
They often get vilified for their duplicity.
It’s too bad that Paterno didn’t follow the pattern that so many coaches choose. If he had moved on in the 1970s or ‘80’s, perhaps Sandusky would not have had the chance to ruin so many lives under the cover of legitimacy.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.