Mehl offers thoughts on Paterno
Editor’s Note: This is the second of two pieces involving Bellaire native and St. Clairsville resident Lance Mehl and his thoughts on the case at Penn State University, involving his former defensive coach Jerry Sandusky. Wednesday’s piece focused on Mehl’s career under Sandusky and his reaction to the allegations brought against the long-time defensive coordinator.
It’s well-known just how loyal Penn State football alumni are to Joe Paterno.
The all-time winningest coach in college football history, who’s been at the helm of the Nittany Lions’ program since 1966, is an institution in State College.
The number of players he’s touched and had an impact on is infinite.
Unfortunately, some around the nation will remember Paterno for what he didn’t do, involving the recent sex scandal, which has turned State College into Unhappy Valley. That could far out-weigh his victories, his generosity, the clean program he ran, his two national championships or the 46 years he devoted to one university in an era when coaches bounce around like gypsies.
However, the Nittany Lion Nation won’t see it that way.
“There are accusations against coaches all the time because they act like idiots,” said former Penn State linebacker and St. Clairsville resident Lance Mehl. “To me, Coach Paterno followed his protocal. Obviously, I realize this is a lot more serious, but it’s still an accusation.”
Paterno formally announced his retirement as Nittany Lions’ head coach Wednesday morning through a statement, but was terminated that night after a meeting of the PSU Board of Trustees.
“For a long time, there’s been a get rid of Joe connection out there,” Mehl said. “People are mad because he’s been somewhere for so long. Anymore, in the world, people are always looking to knock people off their high horse by going after people, and I think that’s just ridiculous.”
While Mehl concedes he’s upset that Paterno has to go out under these terms, rather than his own, he does feel he’s making the right “smart decision.”
There had been a national outcry for Penn State to wipe the slate clean since the news broke of Jerry Sandusky – Paterno’s long-time defensive coordinator – being charged with upwards of 40 counts of sexual misconducts against minors.
“Obviously, the whole situation has just cast a shadow over everyone and the entire program,” Mehl said. “I am still tormented by what Jerry’s accused of doing. I can’t believe the fallout and all of these kids, who were involved, and what’s happening. It’s just sickening.”
Paterno has come under fire for the fact that he didn’t inform authorities of what he was told by then a graduate assistant Mike McQueary, who witnessed one of the alleged crimes committed by Sandusky in 2002.
The Nittany Lions’ head coach did inform his athletic director Tim Curley and PSU Senior Vice President Gary Schultz, who oversaw the university police department, which clears Paterno of any wrongdoing legally, but the fact that he continued to allow Sandusky access to the football facility and didn’t tip off law enforcement about the alleged crimes has drawn serious ire of the national media and even fans.
Mehl played at Penn State from 1976-79 when Paterno was still a relatively new head coach.
Since then, Paterno has become not only the face of Nittany Lion football, but one of the most recognizable men in all of collegiate sports.
“He wasn’t a legend when I was there,” Mehl said. “He was just a really good football coach, who I enjoyed playing for and learned a lot from.”
Paterno’s loyalty to the state of Pennsylvania, the university, his players – past and present – is well documented, but in the end, it might have caused his undoing.
“For years, it was a big family at Penn State for the coaches,” Mehl said. “The coaches went there, played for Joe and then were on the staff. Just lately, has Joe started to open it up a little bit. Joe’s been loyal to his coaches and they’re loyal back.”
Mehl hasn’t stayed as close to the Nittany Lions’ program as many do to their colleges.
He’s been to just one football game since he graduated and that was in 1994.
However, when he was coaching at Robert Morris College, Mehl and a couple of graduate assistants went to Penn State just to observe a spring practice and bounce ideas off the coaching staff in 1996.
Paterno – and Sandusky – greeted Mehl like he was on campus every day.
“Joe and everyone at Penn State would help you as much as they could,” Mehl said. “They treated me like I was still part of the family at Penn State.”
Paterno referred to Mehl as “coach,” which really hit home for Mehl that the man who coached him and had such a great impact on his life was calling him, “coach.”
“We went over to the practice facility and Joe said we could wander around wherever we wanted. He was just that kind of guy and treated everyone right,” Mehl said.
“This stuff just destroys me.”
While Paterno is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and has a resume, which stands alone, his on-field achievements have taken a hit because of the scandal.
“I think it puts a black mark on his legacy,” Mehl said. “He’s done so much more for football than just making Penn State a big name.
“I just don’t know how to say it. It’s sad that he has to go in a situation like this. There are probably always going to be people who criticize that he didn’t do enough. It’s just sad.
“It’s so sad, it’s ridiculous.”
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