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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Lasting memory of Paterno will be in the eye of the beholder


Students gather outside Beaver Stadium to pay their respects to the memory of Joe Paterno. (AP)  
Students gather outside Beaver Stadium to pay their respects to the memory of Joe Paterno. (AP)  

How will Joe Paterno be remembered? That's up to you, and only you.

In the coming days you will be told how to remember the winningest coach in college football history, but beware of those stories. Some of them will be written by people with an agenda, some by people who idolized Paterno for all he did on the football field from 1966-2011, others by people who despised Paterno for all he didn't do when told about Jerry Sandusky in 2002.

You will be given instructions on how to remember Joe Paterno by people propping themselves up as experts on the topic, but there is only one expert here, and that expert is you.

There is too much here to be condensed into a single point of view. Once upon a time, Paterno was one of the most successful coaches of his era, sharing that title with men like Bobby Bowden and Tom Osborne and Barry Switzer, but then he started outlasting them. Switzer left for the NFL, but Paterno stayed. Osborne retired, but Paterno stayed. Bowden retired. Paterno stayed.

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Along with Bowden, Paterno was chasing the greatest coach of all time, Bear Bryant, who won a record 323 games from 1945-82. Then he caught him. Passed him. Won 25 more games than Bear. Won 50 more. Then 75 more, all the way to 400. And kept going, finally reaching 409 before stopping.

Or being stopped.

That's part of the Joe Paterno story too.

When former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged in November with molesting eight young boys, including an alleged 2002 incident that had been reported to the school's president, athletics director and head football coach, the Penn State reaction was swift. Horrified that the 2002 incident hadn't been enough to keep Sandusky away from the football offices -- much less away from young boys -- the Penn State board of trustees lashed out. President Graham Spanier was fired. Athletics director Tim Curley was put on leave. And coach Joe Paterno, the greatest coach of all time, who was preparing his team for a home game in three days against Nebraska, was fired over the telephone. Effective immediately.

According to the Washington Post, to whom Paterno granted his final interview, Joe Paterno hung up the phone and told his wife that trustees vice chairman John Surma had just fired him. Sue Paterno then redialed the number and chewed out Surma:

"After 61 years he deserved better," Sue Paterno told Surma. "He deserved better."

Maybe he did. Maybe he didn't. There are no written guidelines for a story like that one, only moral ones, and everyone's morals are unique, their own. The same goes for the way Joe Paterno is remembered today, and forever. That's up to you.

You could hold onto the image of Joe Paterno, football coach. And what a football coach he was. Won all those games, graduated all those players, wasn't known -- or even thought, by anyone -- to break the rules. For decades, Joe Paterno was the man who did it the right way. Who would dispute that?

But then for months -- for the final months of his life -- Joe Paterno was the man who didn't do enough to stop an alleged pedophile. And who would dispute that?

All that's left now are the memories. His family has theirs. His players have theirs. And you have yours.

How will you remember Joe Paterno? That's a personal decision, which means there is no right answer. I know what I'll think about when I think about Joe Paterno -- I know the first thing that will come to my mind -- but that's my business. Not yours.

How will you remember Joe Paterno? What's the first thing that will come to your mind when you think of him?

That's your business. Not mine.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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