Commentary

Joe Paterno was one of a kind

Updated: January 23, 2012, 11:07 AM ET
By Dick Vitale | ESPN.com

I was absolutely saddened with the news of Joe Paterno's passing. He was one of a kind and I hope people will remember all of the great things he did throughout his tenure.

He served Penn State with an unbelievable passion and a sense of pride, always stressing to his athletes to be the best they could be. He emphasized the need for them to go to class and to do things the right way.

Paterno was accessible to anyone, listing his phone number so that people could dial him at any time. He had a different style of living and enjoyed being so close; Sue and Joe Paterno loved being a part of the community while sharing a special bond with local people. That's why there was a love affair for many years in Happy Valley.

It was so tragic and so sad the way this all ended. It really disturbs me that many people will talk about the Jerry Sandusky situation instead of remembering Paterno's dedication, integrity and loyalty. He even admitted that he probably could have done more in this Sandusky probe. He did everything within the rules, going to the proper authorities when informed of indiscretions.

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireJoe Paterno died just 74 days after being fired by Penn State.

Let me tell you, anyone who believes that the way he was fired didn't tear his heart out, and accelerated the decline of his health, is flat-out kidding themselves.

When you take away something that they love doing, the way Paterno loved coaching these student-athletes, it cuts their heart out. He loved players, being with the team, showing such enthusiasm and emotion. That was always the case, even in his later years.

Paterno was such a special guy, but taking football away from his was similar to the way Bear Bryant's life ended shortly after he retired. There is a parallel between these two giants in the football coaching profession, leaving us only a short time after ending their coaching careers. That tells you how much the sport and being involved with their programs meant to them.

These guys ate, drank and slept football and loved every aspect of it. They loved the people involved.

With Paterno, it was all about loyalty and caring about Pennsylvania State University. He gave thousands and thousands of dollars to the institution to help with the library, other grants and to aid people. In today's day and age, when coaching salaries have skyrocketed through the roof, Paterno lived modestly. His home has been shown on television a number of times and he was not living like a multi-millionaire would.

He was not greedy, and if he played his cards differently, given his career track record, the lifestyle would have been much more special.

Let's remember all of the beautiful moments of his careers, the lives of so many he touched. He put so many into the NFL, names like Franco Harris, Matt Millen, Lydell Mitchell, O.J. McDuffie, LaVar Arrington, Curt Warner ... wow, there have been so many over the years. Hearing guys talk about what their coach meant to him says it all.

They talk about the principles he instilled in them. They made young guys who arrived in college and transformed them into men, winners not only on the field, but in the all-important game of life.

Joe Paterno will be missed, paisan! You were one special guy, a winner in every shape and form. God bless, and may you rest in peace.

Dick Vitale

College Basketball analyst
Dick Vitale, college basketball's top analyst and ambassador, joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season. His thorough knowledge of the game is brought forth in an enthusiastic, passionate style. Vitale also contributes columns to ESPN.com.