By Adam Hoge-
CHICAGO (CBS) Pat Fitzgerald is still struggling with Joe Paterno’s legacy.
The Northwestern head coach considered Paterno a mentor, someone to look up to. Since November, Paterno’s reputation has been tarnished, his statue dismantled and a large chunk of wins erased.
“I’m a father, I’ve got a picture of my sons with Coach Paterno. When they get older, how am I going to describe him? I’m thinking about things like that,” Fitzgerald said Friday at Big Ten Media Days. “I just kind of feel selfish when I talk that way because it doesn’t matter.”
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So has he made a decision on how he’ll describe Paterno to his sons?
“No,” the Northwestern head coach said. “(My wife) and I have talked about that. If I had to make a decision today, I’d talk about how thankful I was for him professionally to me and I’d also talk about, when all the facts come out, I’ll be able to talk to them a little bit, probably a little more education and be able to be pretty crystal clear and formulate an opinion.”
It’s not that Fitzgerald is disputing facts. He’s just struggling to comprehend a tragedy that involved a friend he looked up to. His sons met Paterno in 2010 when the PSU head coach earned his 400th career win against Northwestern. That win is now gone, according to the NCAA, and Fitzgerald doesn’t think that’s necessarily fair to the Penn State players.
“I’m disappointed for those players,” he said. “They had nothing to do with it. Those wins are vacated. I think at the end of the day, those players earned those wins. They had nothing to do with that. If I were a player and that happened when I was at Northwestern, I would be pretty furious as a player.”
Don’t get him wrong, Fitzgerald still fully supports the sanctions the NCAA and Big Ten handed down, but he does feel sympathy for the players who have lost those wins too, at least according to the record books.
“I think it’s an unprecedented time and with that comes unprecedented action,” he said. “The NCAA and the governing body of college football have made their decisions and I know everyone in this conference based on the stance and the direction Commissioner Delany went — and as we talked as a group Thursday morning, everyone supports that.”
To his credit, Fitzgerald has been consistent all week about repeatedly acknowledging the victims of Jerry Sandusky.
“The focus should be on the victims, not whether or not (wins) were taken or any of those things,” he said Thursday.
And considering the egregious actions that took place and the severity of the situation, Fitzgerald thinks it’s pretty hard to argue against the sanctions.
“From someone who is not in Happy Valley every day, not a member of the Paterno family, absolutely,” he said. “But you know, obviously, I run our program so it’s different in the context that you look at it.
“It’s a terrible American tragedy.”
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.