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Paterno Book: The Private Notes of the Late Penn State Coach

by on August 20, 2012 11:00 PM

Joe Posnanski’s highly anticipated biography “Paterno” hits bookshelves Tuesday.

The former Sports Illustrated scribe had unfettered access to Paterno in 2011 and up through his death on Jan. 22.

In addition to exclusive interview time with Paterno and various members of his immediate family, Posnanski had access to Paterno’s private notes and clippings kept in storage at his McKee Street home.

Among them are war letters, quotes, detailed minutes on meetings and notable speeches Paterno has given. Some of his many notes question whether Penn State should leave the Big Ten.

They offer a glimpse into some of his most private moments, including the infamous 2004 meeting with Penn State administrative officials at his kitchen table, when Paterno shot down retirement talk.


Joe Paterno took handwritten notes from a May 26, 1998 coaches’ staff meeting.

This meeting occurred toward the end of a 1998 Penn State police investigation into a sexual abuse allegation against Jerry Sandusky, the defensive coordinator at the time and who would later be convicted on 45 counts in a child sex abuse case.

There is no concrete evidence the investigation correlates to Sandusky’s retirement following the 1999 season. None of the detailed notes Posnanski combs over mention the 1998 investigation.

“We face stiffer competition, and we are making financial commitments to facilities THAT DEMAND that we GET BETTER. Plus facilities which present opportunities to MAKE GREAT THINGS HAPPEN FOR THIS PROGRAM.

And I intend to make sure that great things do happen.

And to do that I think we have to talk about a new direction, or at least guidelines that I think will make us a more focused and more productive staff. And I believe this has been a problem for me and for some of you.

Our structure cannot be static but dynamic. Things are changing all the time. Here’s what I want to talk about.

A)    When someone is talking, especially me, PAY ATTENTION. That means no reading, signing letters, drawing up cards and no side conversations. We’ve having too much “We never said that” or “I didn’t hear that.”

B)    We have to have an open exchange, BUT we don’t need unnecessary and prolonged attempts to win a point.

C)   We have to understand there will be differences and respect each other’s views.

D)   Don’t sulk if your idea gets outvoted or I turn it down.

E)    Don’t think that you are the only one who should or can make suggestions or be critical of your coaching area.

F)    As for myself, I may present some “way-out” ideas to get some reaction or to stimulate some discussion (and to make sure we don’t have “yes men”). I may even change sides in a discussion.

G)   Everybody needs to show strong interest in EVERYTHING that we do. We should be ready to learn from each other and help each other. I intend to sit in on as many meetings as possible.

I’ve talked about this before, but let me say it again. When dealing with the press be careful to emphasize, “We are young, eager, coachable, but we have a long way to go.” TRY NOT TO BE QUOTABLE.

And don’t turn your head if you see a player not abiding by our rules. I’m talking about earrings, beards, studies, appearances, attitude . . . These things equal the “Penn State Way” Players must believe that there are rules that make Penn State special — unique.

And remember: Team morale, team attitude, this is my concern. I want input and suggestions from you. But I have to set the tone."


Paterno admired former Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and kept a poem by Heartsill Wilson that Bryant read during his last public appearance.

It reads:

“This is the beginning of a new day/God has given me this day to use as I will/I can waste it or use it for good/What I do today is very important because I am/Exchanging a day of my life for it/When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever/Leaving something in its place I have traded for it/I want it to be a gain, not loss — good, not evil/Success, not failure, in order that I/ Shall not forget the price I paid for it.”


The books mentions a private memo Paterno wrote in 1993. The Paterno family would sometimes call it the “Why I Hate Jerry Sandusky Memo.”

In it Paterno complained that Sandusky had stopped recruiting, seemed constantly distracted, had lost his energy for coaching, and was more interested in his charity, The Second Mile.

“He would gripe about Jerry all the time,” one family member said.

The book goes into great detail about the rocky relationship between Paterno and Sandusky. Paterno practically blamed the defensive coordinator for the defensive failures in the mid-to-late ‘90s and said Sandusky got lazy on the recruiting trail and was not paying enough detail to the daily demands of coaching.


Among the notes is one single sheet of paper with “Hemingway” written across the top. The author’s name was underlined twice.

Below it was a series of paragraphs from the book A.E. Hotchner wrote about this friend Ernest Hemingway. In the middle of the page were three sentences Paterno underlined:

I remember Ernest once telling me, “The worst death for anyone is to lose the center of his being, the thing he really is. Retirement is the filthiest word in the language. Whether by choice or by fate, to retire from what you do — and what you do makes you what you are — is to back up into the grave.”


Before the infamous 2004 meeting with PSU officials Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz and Steve Garban, Paterno wrote various notes, including circumstantial ones if the discussion was heatedly pointed toward the coach stepping down.

Paterno's notes indicated he was ready to step down as coach. He wanted veto power on his replacement. Tom Bradley was the leading candidate for the job if the next coach was to come from the current staff. If the hire came out of house, he wanted guarantees that many of the current coaches would be retained.  He made a list of coaches who would be a good fit and he offered to stay on and help fund raising.

The notes, written in pencil, also started to turn toward him returning as coach, writing, “We have momentum. We have enthusiasm on the squad.”

“You guys relax. Bad days are behind us now.”

The Teddy Roosevelt quote: “Youth is a disease, but it can be cured.”

“Are we going to be influenced by ripped-up game tickets? Is money our goal regardless?”

“There have always been anti-Paterno people. They said we cant throw the ball . . . [and] in 1994 we had the best offense in the history of the Big Ten. This is the world we live in. I understand it. I can operate in that. Problem is: Can you?” You referred to Graham Spanier.

If the argument got heated, Paterno was prepared, writing the following, again in pencil:

“I am NOT going to resign.

“I am 77, but not old, and the arena is where I thrive.

“Loyalty — Commitment to Education — more than wins + losses.

“I’ve raised millions of dollars at this very table for the University.

“Realizing that graduation rate, etc., are what Penn State athletics are all about.

“I can rally the alumni. People in the country. We are special. We are Penn State.”

And finally, this, in blue pen:

“If I fail (7-4, 8-4), I retire.”

Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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