Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Paterno and Stagg: 128 Years of College Coaching

Paterno-StaggJoe Paterno will be returning for his 46th and perhaps last season as Penn State head football coach this year. Paterno, 84, joined the university’s coaching staff in 1950 and was promoted in 1966.

The legendary coach’s 401 victories are the most in major college football history. He has won three-quarters of those games; captured two national championships; won three Big Ten titles; and had 24 teams named the best in the East. Paterno also holds the all-time record for
bowl games and victories.

The one-time Brown University quarterback has spent his entire career at Penn State, being part of 57 percent of the school’s games played since 1887. In addition to on-field success, his incredible tenure also includes a commitment to character and academics, and personal philanthropy to the institution.

In a day when college coaches are quick to jump from school to school in pursuit of ever-increasing compensation and visibility, Paterno is a welcome throwback to an earlier time.

But despite his amazing run, Paterno’s career does not quite match the longevity of Amos Alonzo Stagg. Stagg, who was born during the Civil War, coached for 68 years, with much of that time at the University of Chicago. Interestingly, these two coaches’ careers have overlapped and form an unbroken string of nearly a century and a quarter.

Stagg’s prowess as a player earned him selection to the initial All-American football team in 1889. His first college head coaching position was at Springfield College in western Connecticut, where he remained for two years. The college today plays its football games at Stagg Field.

Stagg moved on to the University of Chicago, where he remained for four decades. He won two mythical national titles, seven Big Ten championships and contributed a number of advancements to the game. He also was a baseball, basketball and track coach there. The school has had two football fields dedicated to him.

He then migrated to the College of the Pacific, now the University of the Pacific, in Stockton, California. He won five Northern California Athletic Conference titles before departing in 1946 to help his son, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Jr., the head football coach at Susquehanna University in central Pennsylvania. And, yes, there is an Amos Alonzo Stagg Field there, too. He ended his career at Stockton College in 1958 and died seven years later; he was 102.

Stagg ‘s name is attached to football’s Division III title game and, as of last month, the Big Ten championship game will be played for the Stagg-Paterno Trophy. Not surprisingly, there is an effort to rename Penn State’s stadium the “Paterno Field at Beaver Stadium.”

An annual Amos Alozno Stagg Award recognizing coaching excellence was created in 1940; Paterno received it in 2002. Last year, the Joseph V. Paterno Coach of the Year Award was launched.

Spanning the period of the infancy of football to the present day, these two men are extraordinary examples of a commitment to college athletics and to the role of coach as educator. Their very long careers, recognized by special honors, have been matched by impressive success.

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