Paterno no longer winningest Division I coach

Joe Paterno and Florida State coach Bobby Bowden (right) before a 1990 bowl. "Wish I could have earned it, but that's the way it is," Bowden said of overtaking Paterno.
Joe Paterno and Florida State coach Bobby Bowden (right) before a 1990 bowl. "Wish I could have earned it, but that's the way it is," Bowden said of overtaking Paterno. (KATHY WILLENS / AP)
Posted: July 25, 2012

In a brief ceremony last October in the Beaver Stadium interview room, after a snow-swept nail-biter over the University of Illinois, Joe Paterno received a plaque and posed for photos with Pennsylvania State University president Graham B. Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley.

Like the statue that stood outside the stadium, the plaque depicted Paterno running with Nittany Lions players.

The only words on the plaque: "Joe Paterno, Educator of Men, Winningest Coach Division I Football." Spanier held it and smiled while Paterno spoke.

Now it is an ironic artifact from another time.

The victory over Illinois had made Paterno the winningest coach in Division I football history, passing Grambling University's Eddie Robinson. It would be the last victory of Paterno's career.

Now it is no longer a victory. That designation was officially removed Monday, one day after the statue was hauled down at the stadium.

NCAA president Mark Emmert announced Monday that all Penn State victories from 1998 through 2011 had been vacated as part of the string of sanctions imposed by the organization.

Paterno's forever-stained legacy will not include being his sport's most victorious coach. Emmert didn't talk about Paterno by name when he was asked Monday about the vacated victories.

"Obviously, the 1998 date was selected because that was when the first reported incident of abuse occurred and that is when the failure to respond began," Emmert said of decisions made by Paterno and top Penn State officials, including Spanier and Curley, dealing with child sexual-abuse allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

Emmert added, "I'll leave what it says about individuals to others."

Since players come and go, college football history is largely written through the coaches. That has always given the race to most victories added distinction, unlike in professional sports, where most of the great historical milestones involve players rather than coaches.

Paterno always professed not to care, but others marked time and history by adding up his victories. Paterno and Florida State coach Bobby Bowden passed Bear Bryant of Alabama and vied for the top spot in Division I-A football, behind only Robinson, whose Grambling teams played in Division I-AA. Bowden seemed to fall behind Paterno for good in 2009 when 14 of his victories from earlier seasons were vacated due to an academic scandal.

"I didn't want it to happen like this," Bowden told the Associated Press on Monday about becoming the winningest coach in the top division of college football. "Wish I could have earned it, but that's the way it is."

The NCAA had never before vacated so many games. By Monday afternoon, the Paterno Wikipedia page already reflected the new reality. His biography, which included his year-by-year records, noted an 0-4 2011 season, with 9-4 in parentheses to indicate how the games had really played out. Now Paterno's best season since '98 was the 0-1 2005 season. (Only the victories were vacated. The losses stay in place.)

So from 409, Paterno goes to 298, No. 8 in all of Division I. From three Big Ten titles, Paterno now officially has just one, in 1994.

Just last week, Grambling's city attorney had requested in a letter to the NCAA that some of Paterno's victories be vacated. Both men had died, but the competition still raged.

"Coach Paterno has passed and I do have sympathy for his family," City Attorney Pamela Breedlove told the Shreveport (La.) Times. "We think Coach Robinson should get his record back. It would be good for the city and good for the university. Who wants to be reminded of [the Penn State scandal] when they think of the record?"


Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com. Follow @Jensenoffcampus on Twitter.

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