Mike Munchak does not believe his experience at Penn State was unique in any way.
So the Tennessee Titans head coach figures he is not the only one who believes Joe Paterno’s legacy of service and dedication will survive the current scandal that has rocked that university and prompted Paterno’s announcement Wednesday that he plans to retire at the end of the season.
“I think I speak for everyone that’s gone there: he was a great coach to be around, I knew we were very important to him, not just as football players but as people,” Munchak said. “He made that very clear. I thought the way he handled the team, the way he motivated us. The stories he told were more about life and not just football. He was concerned for what you did after football, the school thing was legitimate — he did want guys to graduate.
“All the things you heard about him were exactly true. I don’t think that’s going to change for anybody.”
Paterno’s long-time defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, was arrested earlier this week and charged with numerous crimes as a result of alleged sexual activity with young boys over a period of years. Sandusky had access to the children through his charitable foundation for at-risk kids, The Second Mile.
College football’s winningest head coach, who has worked at Penn State for 61 years, has come under fire, but not criminal investigation, for the fact that he reported one alleged incident in 2002 to his superiors but not to law enforcement.
“To me, this whole thing has been a horrible situation,” Munchak said. “It’s been a tragedy that something like this can happen. I can’t imagine what the victims and the families have been through.
“… As far as how the university’s handling it and what Coach Paterno has decided to do, I think they know all the information. That’s information, I think, that only they’re aware of as to what did go on, and I think he’s probably doing what he needs to do.”
Munchak is the first person to have played under Paterno to become an NFL head coach. His staff includes special teams assistant Chet Parlavecchio, a linebacker at the university when Sandusky was defensive coordinator.
Titans linebacker Tim Shaw also played at Penn State and during his time there did work with The Second Mile even though Sandusky no longer was a member of the coaching staff.
“He was around, I knew him,” Shaw said. “… I think [The Second Mile] was a big, positive spot in Central Pennsylvania, for sure. There were always events going on to raise money for it, and there were, I think, a lot, a lot of kids who were helped and a lot, a lot who were impacted in a positive way, from what I saw.”
Clearly, though, there was much he and others did not see.
At this point, Sandusky has been charged with 40 criminal counts. He was arrested and freed on bond.
Paterno announced his decision in a statement in which he said he was ‘devastated’ by the developments in the case.
“I honestly can’t believe that now is the time [Paterno] chose to do it,” Shaw said. “There’s been a lot of opportunities, but for now to be the time … it’s just sad that he’s linking the two events together, I think.”
Munchak was confident that — with enough time — the two eventually would separate themselves.
“When you talk to Penn Staters, we all have the same story about our experience there, as far as what the place meant to us, the pride we have in that place, coach Paterno and the staff,” Munchak said. “So when you hear something like this, that there’s something going on on your campus, the shock is. ‘How could this have happened? How could this have been going on?’
“…I’m still proud of my university. I still think it’s a great place to go to school. Right now, it’s something that’s very unfortunate. It’s a tragedy that happened at Penn State.”