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JoePa, Coach K event reminds us of what's right in college sports

June 20, 2011 - Cory Giger
UNIVERSITY PARK -- Two icons. Two feet apart. A combined 1,301 victories. And one great example of what's right in college sports. Perfect timing, too.

Coming on the heels of the Ohio State fiasco, some ESPN executives figured it would be a good idea to bring JoePa and Coach K together for a TV program called "Difference Makers: Life Lessons with Paterno and Krzyzewski" and remind the sports world that not every college coach is a liar and a cheat like Jim Tressel.

The event was actually two years in the making, and it could not have been handled any better than it was Monday afternoon at PSU's Eisenhower Auditorium before about 900 onlookers who will forever remember the historic gathering.

"This was once-in-a-lifetime stuff," said Malcolm Moran, head of the sports journalism department at Penn State and one of the event organizers.

Amazingly, the two most respected coaches in the country in their respective sports had never really met or chatted before Monday. But that didn't come through at all.

They ate lunch together earlier in the day and came across looking like old friends when the cameras started rolling.

Joe Paterno was on his 'A' game. He always is in these settings for the national media.

Mike Krzyzewski played the perfect guest, one of the rare coaching equals to Paterno but someone who showed incredible respect to the point of deference to Penn State's iconic figure.

"There's no one better in the history of college sports," Coach K said of JoePa.

Paterno showed his trademark humility and sense of humor when he responded to a question about being an icon.

"Tell me, what is an icon?" Paterno said. "If you mean some good-looking [guy], I like it."

The crowd erupted in laughter.

Paterno was on his home turf, and Krzyzewski knew that. Coach K won over the crowd by repeatedly praising his coaching counterpart.

"I think your statue should be bigger," Krzyzewski said of Paterno's likeness outside of Beaver Stadium.

There were plenty of entertaining and enlightening moments, all of which can be seen when ESPN airs the special June 30.

The two coaches fielded questions from ESPN moderator Rece Davis and members of the audience for about 90 minutes, with segments devoted to their backgrounds, family, leadership and sustained excellence of their programs.

The most important aspect of the made-for-TV event is that the two coaches sitting on the stage have achieved all of their remarkable success by running clean programs.

We need a reminder of that nowadays.

College sports are so corrupt that many people believe every program is breaking the rules in some form or another, and the NCAA is a hypocritical laughingstock in the way it handles many issues.

JoePa and Coach K not only represent the winningest Division I football coach and soon-to-be winningest basketball coach -- Krzyzewski needs three victories to surpass Bob Knight's mark of 902 -- the two also epitomize the "success with honor" slogan by overseeing programs that have never run afoul of NCAA rules with major violations.

That doesn't mean violations haven't occurred, but they've been minor. And unlike the lying and secrecy at Ohio State, they have been reported.

Paterno, in fact, self-reported a minor violation during Monday's taping. He said he was walking by Holuba Hall a few days ago and stopped to watch some players working out, which he was later reminded by his assistants is actually against NCAA rules at this time of year.

You think Tressel would have owned up to that kind of thing?

It's called integrity. And no coach on the planet has more of it than Paterno.

Krzyzewski isn't far behind. When one of his assistant coaches, Chris Collins, accidentally went to watch a player during a recruiting dead period in 2008, the school immediately owned up to it and self-reported the issue to the NCAA.

Tressel would still have a job had he done that a year ago at Ohio State.

Krzyzewski spoke eloquently about how the lack of access college coaches have with their own players is "unacceptable," adding that the NCAA needs to modernize its rules and get with the times of our social-media, texting-crazed society to allow coaches to communicate more with athletes.

Paterno added that no matter what a head coach does to stay within the rules, there are boosters and alumni everywhere who may be doing shady things unbeknownst to anyone.

The bottom line for both men is to set an example and establish great leadership from the top down, which hopefully permeates to the players and everyone involved with the program to do things the right way.

It doesn't always work, of course. But on the stage Monday sat two coaches who have made it work for them for a combined 81 years and six national championships.

As Davis said during the show, Penn State and Duke are "programs that stand for everything that's right in college sports."

The same can be said for Paterno and Krzyzewski. Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or


When to watch Monday's taped footage featuring Joe Paterno and Mike Krzyzewski will air June 30 from 8-9:30 p.m. The first hour will be on ESPN, and the final 30 minutes will air on ESPNU.

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