Monday, January 23, 2012

Joe Paterno Almost a Steeler


Really enjoyed this bit of "almost" history from Peter King's column at CNN today:


Sad news, however you fall on the Joe Paterno spectrum, with the news of his death Sunday at 85 ... 85 days after he coached his last game at Penn State. My feeling is that he could have done more, by his own admission, to bring the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal to light. He hung on too long to a job, when clearly he wasn't up to the physical demands of it anymore; he should have left the job six or seven years ago for the good of the program. But all of that doesn't erase the enormous good he did on a growing campus and for the lives of the players he coached.
The following has gotten some play over the last few weeks, but I thought I would sum up his three biggest flirtations with the NFL over the years.
In 1968, the Steelers went 2-11-1 under coach Bill Austin, and owner Art Rooney and son Dan decided to make a coaching change. Not long after the season ended, they made an offer that Paterno seriously considered -- because it was for $70,000 a year, $50,000 more than he was making at Penn State. At the time, Paterno was a hot property. Penn State had beaten Kansas in the Orange Bowl and finished the season (Paterno's third at Penn State) ranked second in the country.
"I thought he was going to come,'' Dan Rooney once told me. "We had him in my kitchen in Pittsburgh having lunch one day. We had a great conversation. I thought there was a good chance he'd want to coach our team.''
But Paterno felt he hadn't stayed at Penn State long enough, and he felt indebted to the school for giving him the job three years earlier. The Steelers hired the defensive coordinator from the Baltimore Colts, Chuck Noll, prompting disgruntled Steeler fans to complain they couldn't even get a college guy to coach their team. It turned out to be the best decision, arguably, in the history of the franchise.
The pursuit of Paterno happened again in 1973 and in 1982 with the Patriots. Twice Paterno was offered the coaching job in New England, and he verbally accepted in '73 -- but backed out because he reportedly was skittish over the shaky ownership and management of the team.
Imagine if Paterno had taken the Steeler job and Noll hadn't. My first question is whether Paterno would have taken Joe Greene of North Texas State, as Noll did, as the first draft pick of the club in 1969. Greene became the cornerstone of the Steel Curtain, and is probably the single most important draft pick in club history. We'll never know if Paterno would have liked quarterback Greg Cook enough to pick Cook and build his offense around him, or maybe even his own tight end from Penn State, Ted Kwalick, over a player from a smaller school. Noll never feared the college players from schools outside the power conferences; in fact, many of his cornerstone players came from the lesser schools and predominantly black colleges. Would Paterno have shared Noll's affection for the less famous?

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