Sunday, August 17, 2014

Entries Throughout A Book About My Hero

Everything written below was a collection of thoughts and feelings that reopened while reading my new book.


Since I started my new book, "Paterno Legacy," written by Joe's son Jay, a lot of emotions have recently stirred up.   Some that I probably buried intentionally, some that I didn't even realize faded away.   Within the first few pages, like a new pair of prescription glasses, I started see things differently.  Different but not new, old actually.   Thoughts and feelings that I buried away through pain and failures, of my own and then again when the scandal broke in November of 2011.  Maybe how some Catholics felt when the scandals involving the priests broke, their religion shook, maybe their foundation was in danger. Mine was.  I never realized how much Joe Paterno and the standards he set on and off the field were my religion, my foundation.  I've always been the kind of person that needed role models and heros, and Joe Paterno was always mine. So again, November 2011 changed it all and then when he passed a few months later, a lot changed for me.  I never really thought of myself as a "football guy," I was a "JoePa guy."    

I've been wearing navy blue and white for as long as I can remember.  First it was the logo of the Nittany Lion that had me hooked around 10 years old... Then I saw the helmets and the black Nikes.   Then the solid colored jerseys w no names on the back.  Just the team.  Guys stood out, but there was no I, just team. 
Then as I grew up a bit and watched more Saturday afternoon football, I saw his black polished Nikes, the rolled up dress pants (because he didn't want to ruin them or make more work at home for his wife to clean) and the coke bottle glasses... A small man, leading a team.  Later I learned he not only lead the team, but the city and university and in some ways college football as a whole.
So as new and old thoughts and feelings float around, I'll be logging them below and possibly by the end of the book, I'll have figured something out about myself, or for myself.

Day 1 
For the past couple years, everytime I wore a TShirt or hat or shorts, a joke soon followed by nearly anyone near... Makes me kinda wish I didn't come across so friendly.  A meaner mug would've deterred their ignorance.  
But it actually shows what a poor job done by the media.  I asked someone "remember the guys name who was found guilty?"  They didn't.  All they remembered was the scandal and headlines, the name and the face of the football program, which was never accused of any crime, or subject of any investigation, and handed over any and all info immediatly upon receiving it.  
How easy it is to forget facts and logic when scandal and conspiracies are so much more fun to talk about.

Day 2
I'm a little ashamed w myself that I've allowed my dreams to fade.  When I was younger, all I wanted was to find that one school, one team and never leave.  I wanted to emulate and teach, just as Joe did. I've let politics and society take that from me, I've let them weaken my vision... And the funny thing, to me now, is that it never faded, it was just buried away underneath the rules of their (politics and society) game. 
 I think you do have to have a rebellious soul and fearless heart to follow a dream through, a vision for a lifetime.  

Day 3
I wonder where our standards as a society started to slide.  Is it human instinct to push the boundaries of rules or to challenge traditions?  
Maybe in a lot of ways, things were better in the past....
The ones that I work with consistently don't really fall under this next statement, but look at teenagers these days (how old do I sound now?  Jeez).  But I don't see the drive or passion for athletics that I once did and I think that's a sign as to where things are headed.  Athletics are a great teaching tool for work ethic, team work, and goal setting.  If that's not as strong as it once was, is it safe to say we may be slipping into a lazier, sloppier brand of society?  
I think people used to want to change to become better.  Now they want change to make it easier.  
It's ok to have high standards in everything you do, in fact, you should.  I think kids now (in certain areas) look down on those who abide by rules and get straight A's.  I blame society (whoever society is) for making the Kardashians cool, or reporting on Justin Beibers driving record and following Miley Cyrus through a mall.  
Role models and heros are pretty hard to find these days. 

Day 4
Ironically, the topic of heros just came up when I watched Phil Knights speech at Joe Paternos memorial service on YouTube. He talked about having heros his entire life and had Joe for the last 12 years.  When Joe passed, he wondered "where will I find my hero now?"  
I assume feeling how I feel... Are there any left?  Where to look...

Day 5
It's funny reading locker room stories... Hearing the voices and playing out the scenes in your mind.
I definitely started coaching way too young.  I think I was 23 or so when I had my first taste and even though I think I was brought along properly in year 1 and 2, my head definitely inflated much too fast and for absolutely no reason.  I went from a scout to a head middle school coach to thinking I was ready for a head hs job... Typical me.  Then I coached a few more years in middle schools before heading up to varsity level... Unfortunately, still too young, still too big of a head and a total pain in the ass for the head coach.  But within a couple years, I was running defenses and finally started to settle down.  Getting your ass handed to you a few times is an extremely humbling experience and when your fancy little playbook takes a dump on a Friday night, it'll cause you to stay up late wondering what went wrong... And that's where the growing begins.   The best thing that ever happened to me was coaching those 1-9 and 2-8 teams.  (And for the record, probably my most memorable years and some of the most talented players I've ever coached).  
As Joe Paterno would say "Youth is a disease... Luckily, it's curable."  Experience is the cure.  For me, coaching is about teaching and preparing young people for life.  At 24, I had very few teachable experiences. Yes, I was still firey and intense, but lacked patience and empathy.
When you're young, you're cocky and you blast off with all this cocky energy.  But as you travel, those cocky rocket boosters fall away and now you're running on your real fuel and you find out who you really are. 
I learned that X's and O's aren't that important.  Every coach has them.   
I learned that you have to coach every kid on the team, not just the studs and not just the guys you relate to. Actually, now I probably give more attention to back ups than starters.   Plus backups usually work harder and want it more.  
I learned that every day, every drill is a chance to teach a lesson, some more lasting than others, but an opportunity anyway.   Don't waste the time.  That's why I credit those losing seasons.  As far as outsiders were concerned, we had nothing to play for.  But for us, we were playing to play hard.  To be in games.  To be respectable. In a backwards way, I think I loved being behind.  I loved looking up at the clock and thinking "only down 2 scores... Let's get a turnover and rally back," and then bring the guys in, speak from the heart and get their excitement up for the challenge... Dammit I miss that.  What I loved most about this team was their work ethic.  We had games where we were slaughtered, around 56-6 or something like that, and although it hurt that night and probably over the weekend, come Monday afternoon, we were back to work, full go. You'd never guess what the result was from the week prior.
 I coached a championship level teams few years after that and it didn't have the same appeal.  Still awesome kids, really good talent, but the wins hurt them.  The blowout victories, as good as they were hurt them.  And I knew heading into the playoffs that we'd be punished for not being battle tested... We had no battle scars.  So I knew when we faced a fire, it would be a new heat that we weren't accustomed to... How would we react?   
All in all... The majority of the guys faired well, real well, but football needs 11 players on both sides of the ball and we just didn't have enough.   Still no regrets.  Once I dropped my "rocket boosters," and became a coach, I haven't regretted a job yet.  
My only regret is that I'm not out there this year.  I've realized recently that it's the only place I truly belong.  Unfortunately, it's extremely difficult to lock up w a team when you're not a teacher.  Teachers and faculty get first dibs on contracts, understandably so, but I usually get a call in the summer like "hey, we need help on D," and I'm off.  This year, I declined for the sake of work... Ugh.   
(Pathetic job hunt:if there are any schools out there looking for a weight room instructor or any other paid position,  I'm your guy!  Email and I'll send a resume).
Obviously, my goal is to find one school and never leave.  To coach there for 40+ years.
Sidenote: I know I talk a lot of junk from time to time about what coaches should be, but I can honestly say that I've been extremely lucky to coach w some great guys.  Some may have yelled a bit too much or some may have been a little too soft, but all in all, the guys I've coached with always wanted to see the kids succeed.  I may not have appreciated them the way I should have and I'm sorry.   There were times where we'd debate or argue and that's needed.  We were never "yes men," to each other, we always challenged each other and that's important when you're trying to grow and come up w new ideas and to hold the ones accountable.   We may have made mistakes in a decision but never in full.  

Day 6
When my girls were younger, they knew the "kitty cat," logo.  The blue and white Nittany Lion logo of Penn State.  I wish it lasted long enough for them to see why. Why the logo was at every turn, on all my shirts, shorts, on pillows, glasses, stickers, and books. 
I'll tell stories down the road and maybe they'll sound how someone now talks about JFK or another great figure of the 50's or 60's.  We can tell the stories, but the feelings will never be properly captured.  

Day 7
Should it really take this long to read a book??
I've never been a quick reader... And with this one, I might be dragging my feet.  
I've heard people talk about their books and how they can escape to their fantasy land that the author lays out, they see the landscape and hear the voices... Smell the scent and feel as much as possible... Which asks the question "if it happens in your head, is that just as real as real?"
So here, w this book, I get to go back to Happy Valley everytime I open it up... Unfortunately, I know the ending.  I'm hanging on though, hoping the author is able to write something that changes history...

Day 8 
(Promise, I'll wrap up soon)
I was beginning to wonder how or when any of this will tie into anything you can relate to.  At first glance, it might look like some nutty guy, rambling away about his hero, on and on.  But then I remembered an interview that was going so-so until I was stuck on a question and my answer was "this might not make sense, but I am a Joe Paterno guy."  The interviewer broke a huge smile and said "I completely understand.. Say no more." And from there it went from interview to conversation and I was hired. 
I think it's a real possibility, that my work, my blogs, everything I've done, has been in attempt to say that same phrase, "I'm a Joe Paterno guy."
What does that mean? This is the hang up, because I really don't think too much about talking about myself or what I think I've done, I want the action to speak for themselves.  I think we should all want that for each other and ourselves.  Let your actions speak, "don't tell me - show me," type of mentality.  
It means being truthful, even when it hurts or it's not what you want to hear... A lesson hard learned. 
It means being fair, even when the outcome may not lean your way.
It means standing up for people that may not have a voice or not yet strong enough to use it. 

It means to think of WE, not ME... US, not I.  

Until Coach Paternos last days, all he wanted to see or help with, was the victims and the university.  He didn't quite know the university was preparing to isolate him and make him their goat. It was their PR move that the media w run with.  The media and the trustees found Joe Paterno guilty.  Guilty of not fulfilling a moral obligation, even though everything Joe knew was reported to the AD, the president of the university and then a grand jury and he was never once under investigation or found negligent.  He offered full disclosure at every turn and did the right thing.  It cost him his job and when his health slid away within months, you might say it cost his life.  He did the right thing, chose the right way, at every turn of his life, right til the end. 

 Day 9
This was a life changing book for me. 
It was a reminder back to the roots of my why.... Something I lost along the road.  
But it's clear again and I feel fresh air, new energy.  

I think there have been times where I've been too hard, too critical, too tough on others and myself and that's going to change.  We're all just people, constantly growing and moving and trying to do the best we can.  All we can do is be better today than we were yesterday.  Just little steps, over time make a big difference and I've often looked for too much, too fast.  Again, this book was a reminder as to what's important.  Here was a guy, one of the most powerful, most influential men in sports, in the world... That touched millions of people throughout his life and in his mind, he was just a football coach, father and grandfather.  

"You're never as good as your best or as bad as your worst."



(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Source: A Choice of Kipling's Verse (1943)

Watching practice

I can't put into words how good it felt to be in this building...

And witness my... Childhood?  I don't know.  I really can't explain it.  I could've moved here and just been an equipment guy and it would've been great just to be a part of it all.

Coach Paterno bringing out the guys before a game.
The outdoor practice field w Mount Nittany in the background.
The first time I saw Coach, I was standing near this field and my brother got my attention and motioned across the opposite field, and he was just standing there, looking out at the same range.  Gray sweat shirt, khakis, white socks, black Nikes, just as I would've imagined.  I remember thinking it couldn't be him.., it can't be... He's just standing there, like us.  No security, no one bothering him, just walking.  I couldn't approach him that first year... Or second. I just walked where he walked and watched him.  Every drill he oversaw, every player he pulled aside, I was in the background.  I just wanted to experience what the Lion was all about, just a piece if that's all I could.
Year 3, I told myself "that's it, I'm making myself known to all coach, and definitely Joe."  I never dreamed it would be my last trip.  
I was primarily there to sit in on the strength & conditioning sessions.  Over the years, I annoyed the staff so much w emails and questions, they eventually gave me an open invite to come up and watch whenever I could.  One strength coach even offered a place to crash.  Probably 60-70% of my training program/style comes from Happy Valley and a guy the National Strength & Conditioning Assoc calls a "master," John Thomas.  He was my "Joe," in the weight room, if he said it, it was golden, written down, and repeated.  
Anyway, mission accomplished.  By the time I left, I was on a first name basis w nearly all coaches I shadowed and even had the chance to talk about my defensive schemes w their defensive guru, Tom Bradley... Obviously he liked it, my playbook was his playbook.  
I did eventually shake Joes hand... I've never been more nervous.  Walking up I remember being scared he'd ask me a question and I wouldn't know the answer or I would've be able to get his attention w other coaches around.  I said "it's an honor," shook his hand and immediately turned away and towards his view to watch what he was watching.  We were on the game field in Beaver Stadium.  He asked "what do you think?" 
 Please be asking about the team... Please be asking the team... Oh shit.
"Fast... Really fast."
He agreed "I think it's the fastest team we've ever had."
And that was all, and all I needed.

This Is Blue Chip