Posted by Bryan Fischer
Penn State coach Joe Paterno was presented the 2011 President Gerald R. Ford Award during the NCAA’s annual convention Thursday night for his significant leadership in intercollegiate athletics during his long and storied career.
“I got to know President Ford at one of the Heisman Trophy dinners,” Paterno said. “He was vice president at the time, I think, when John Capeletti got the Heisman Trophy and he was one of the speakers. We start talking football and talking about Michigan coaches and the whole bit. He was such a true, blue Michigan guy. He wrote me a note, so we corresponded.
“He was a great guy, very unassuming. We got to be pretty good friends.”
Paterno is the ninth recipient of the award and it follows on the heels of his 44th season as the Nittany Lions head coach. Admittedly not as active in the NCAA as he once was, Paterno was concerned about the rise of high profile enforcement cases the association has been dealing with.
“Oh yeah I’m troubled, but I’m realistic,” he said. “There’s always someone looking for some sort of an advantage. My theory has been, when my coaches come back and say hey, so and so is doing this, so and so is doing that. We’re not policemen. We’ve got to take care of our house and we work at that.”
The Nittany Lions finished the year at 7-6 after falling to Florida in the Outback Bowl. Despite not reaching the nine win plateau for the first time since 2004, the coach was optimistic things would be better in 2011.
“I think we should be a little better than we were this past year,” Paterno said. “We had a lot of young kids, a lot of injuries, a little bit unsettled at a couple of key spots. I think if we can have a good winter program, a good spring, I think we’ll be a little better football team. How much better? Oh I don’t know.
“We’ve had a couple of coaches that have looked around to become head coaches but I think everybody will be back and it’ll be kind of a fun year.”
When asked if he would be back as head coach to lead Penn State for season number 45, the still sharp Paterno quickly flashed a large grin.
“I’m hoping,” he said. “My boss is here, our athletic director, ask him. I’m hoping. I feel good. I’m in good health. It’s amazing how the internet and all that kind of stuff can spread rumors so quickly.”