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Editor’s note: The NCAA, on July 23, 2012, rescinded the Ford Award presented to Joe Paterno in 2011. No Ford Award honoree will be recognized for 2011
When Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States in August 1974, Joe Paterno was entering his ninth season as Penn State head football coach. He joined the Nittany Lions staff in 1950 during the Truman Administration, became the program’s head coach in 1966, and has served the terms of 12 presidents and counting.
In accepting the NCAA’s Ford Award, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno said the greatest reward from coaching is helping young people adjust in a competitive world.
So it was fitting Thursday when Paterno joked that “in 61 years, if you stay in something long enough, they’re probably gonna give you something” after he was introduced as the 2011 NCAA President’s Gerald R. Ford Award Winner to a standing ovation here at the NCAA annual convention. The award honors an individual who has provided significant leadership as an advocate for intercollegiate athletics on a continuous basis throughout his or her career.
That the award was named after an old friend made it even more special.
“I think for what he stood for and his love of what he did in athletics, I think it’s a very appropriate award,” Paterno said. “Whether I deserve it or not remains to be seen, but I think it’s great the Association has an award named after him. I’m obviously delighted to get it.”
Paterno said he met Ford, a three-year letter winner at center for the Wolverines in the 1930s, at the 1973 Heisman Trophy dinner. He later attended a couple dinners at the White House with his wife, Sue.
“We started talking football, and talking about Michigan coaches and the whole bit,” Paterno said of his first meeting with Ford. “He was such a true blue Michigan guy. He wrote me a note and we kind of corresponded a little bit. I wish I would have kept the letters. He was a great guy, very unassuming. We got to be pretty good friends…
“I used to kid (former Michigan coach) Bo Schembechler when he was alive, I said, ‘Why couldn’t you turn out like Ford instead of being the SOB?’”
Ford’s words had an impact on Paterno, especially when Ford recounted how his experiences as a college student-athlete had helped him later in life when he went to law school and entered politics.
Paterno, who in 2010 became the first Football Bowl Subdivision coach to reach 400 wins, said he feels good about the years he’s spent in intercollegiate athletics. It isn’t about how big your stadium is or how much money you spent, Paterno told the audience at the Opening Business Session. The growth of student-athletes as they find out things about themselves through sacrifice and discipline is what’s important.
Will he be back for another season with the Nittany Lions? “I’m hoping I’m gonna coach,” he said. “Our athletic director Tim Curley is here. Ask him. I feel good, I’m in good health.”
Paterno said he’d also like to get to know new NCAA President Mark Emmert.
“It’s probably as tough a job now as it’s ever been, as difficult as it’s ever been,” Paterno said of the NCAA presidency. “But I’m anxious to get to know him…I got advice, but it’s easy to give advice. It’s another thing to be able to implement it.”