In death as in life, timing matters. Had Joe Paterno died Jan. 22, 2011, he’d have been hailed as the one coach who’d negotiated the murky waters of contemporary college football and left, both his sport and this world, with dignity shining. Every obituary would have included, no further down than the second paragraph, the line: “He did it the right way.”
But Joe Paterno died Jan. 22, 2012, and today every first paragraph is duty-bound to mention of his forced departure from Penn State 2 1/2 months before his death, a departure triggered not because some recruit was given a new car but because a longtime assistant coach was indicted for child sex abuse.
Joe Paterno took two national championships, won more games at the major-college level than any other football coach and never saw his program penalized by the NCAA. Had he died at age 84, as opposed to 85, we would have mourned his passing while celebrating a life