by Charlie Miller
In 1987, my first year in a full-time capacity at Athlon Sports, we named Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky as Athlon’s Assistant Coach of the Year. I was incredibly green in this business — needless to say — but I knew Penn State Joe Paterno to be a legend among coaches.
And for the second year, Athlon celebrated what we considered unheralded men who performed some heavy lifting and were directly responsible for the success of football programs. First it was Tennessee defensive coordinator Ken Donahue to be recognized by our magazine as Assistant Coach of the Year.
Then in 1986, the Penn State Nittany Lions did something that no other team had been able to do that season, stop Miami’s vaunted, explosive offense. Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde owned streaks of 116 and 114 consecutive passes without interceptions over the 1985 and 1986 seasons. But Sandusky engineered a defense that intercepted Testaverde five times, leading to a 14-10 Penn State victory and a national championship.
At the time, Sandusky was described by the writer Bill Lyon as “a cerebral, aw-shucks-humble, relentless watcher and analyzer of films, and most importantly the defensive coordinator for the Lions.”
The defensive genius of Sandusky was clear back in 1987 as Joe Paterno went out of his way to make sure that Sandusky was known nationally.
Paterno responded to questions about Sandusky’s prospects for a head coaching job: “Many people have talked to me about hiring him….Jerry has been reluctant to talk to anybody about a head coaching job, though, because of all the commitments he has in the community.”
The Sanduskys, Jerry and wife Dottie, had just fulfilled a dream of establishing a group home for troubled youngsters. The program, known as the Second Mile, was a home for six children at a time and 20 acres of land a mere two miles from Beaver Stadium.
Paterno continued, “Jerry and Dottie are special, special people. We’re all so proud of what they have done, and we would certainly hate to lose them.”
A Sandusky quote from the article: “We believe in the saying that it isn’t what happens to you, but how you react to it that is important.”
The final two paragraphs of the story:
“Will Sandusky be a career assistant coach? Or, one day, will there be a team identified as his and his alone? Some speculate that he will be Paterno’s successor. Paterno, who is 60, said after the Fiesta Bowl that he would coach “for another four years, maybe five, but no more than that.” Would Sandsuky’s loyalty then be rewarded?
There is precedent. For 16 years, Rip Engle had an assistant on his staff who was skinny, wore thick glasses and was bright, and everyone wondered why he never took a head coaching job. Joe Paterno always answered that he was happy just being in Happy Valley. Jerry Sandusky says the same thing. He has always been so selfless that you cannot help but believe him.”