By Marta Lawrence
Editor’s note: The NCAA, on July 23, 2012, rescinded the Ford Award presented to Joe Paterno in 2011.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
Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has been named the winner of the 2011 NCAA President’s Gerald R. Ford Award.
NCAA President Mark Emmert will present the award to Paterno on Jan. 13 at the NCAA Convention in San Antonio.
“I am honored to present this award to coach Paterno,” Emmert said. “His ‘total-person’ approach to student-athletes, emphasizing academics and personal accountability is a terrific example of everything the NCAA stands for. Coach Paterno has distinguished himself to the world by his wins on the field, but he has endeared himself to thousands of student-athletes who have learned through his leadership that success in the classroom and in life is the greatest accomplishment. For me Coach Paterno is the definitive role model of what it means to be a college coach."
Paterno, who holds the record for most Division I Football Bowl Subdivision wins with 401, has coached the Nittany Lions since 1966. He was among the first three active coaches inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and has coached more bowl games (36) and has more postseason wins (24) than any coach in college football history. He has two national championships (1982 and 1986) and seven of his teams had undefeated regular seasons.
Before taking over as head coach, Paterno was an assistant to the legendary Rip Engle for 16 years. Counting the victories he collected with Engle, Paterno has been present for 505 of Penn State’s 818 college football wins since the program began in 1887.
Paterno’s program emphasizes academics as a constant companion to athletics. For the third consecutive year, Penn State led all FBS teams in first-team ESPN/CoSIDA Academic All-American selections. He is known for requiring his student-athletes to attend class, devote adequate time to their studies and graduate. Under his leadership, Penn State football has an 84 percent graduation rate.
The five-time National Coach of the Year began his career at Penn State during the Truman administration and has coached through 12 presidential terms. During Paterno’s tenure, his teams have produced 16 Hall of Fame Scholar-Athletes, 47 ESPN/CoSIDA Academic All-Americans and 18 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship winners. Penn State has had at least one Academic All-American in each of the past nine years, with 13 first-team honorees during the last four years.
In 1998 Paterno; his wife, Sue; and their five children announced a $3.5 million contribution to Penn State. The gift endows faculty positions and scholarships in the College of Liberal Arts, the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and the University Libraries. It also supported two building projects, the interfaith spiritual center and the Penn State All-Sports Museum.
“Penn State has been very good to both Sue and me,” Paterno said at the time. “We have met some wonderful people here, we’ve known many students who have gone on to become outstanding leaders in their professions and in society, and all of our children have received a first-class education here.”
The Paternos have also made a $1 million contribution to the Mount Nittany Medical Center, supporting an expansion of Centre County’s primary health facility. They have been active in the Special Olympics and in 2008 were inducted into the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Hall of Fame.
Even Paterno’s iconic glasses have made a difference. In 2010 an autographed pair pulled in $9,000 to benefit Penn State Public Broadcasting.
Earlier this month, the Big Ten Conference announced the winning team in the Big Ten Football Championship game will earn the Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy. The trophy pays homage to Paterno and Amos Alonzo Stagg, who won 199 games at University of Chicago when the Maroons were Big Ten members. Paterno ranks fifth among Big Ten coaches all-time with 154 wins since the Nittany Lions began conference play in 1993.
In March 2010, the Maxwell Football Club announced it renamed its top college coaching honor the Joseph V. Paterno College Coach of the Year Award.
Paterno is the ninth recipient of the Ford Award. Previous winners include former NCAA President Myles Brand, Billie Jean King, James Frank, Christine Grant, Birch Bayh, John Wooden, William Friday and Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh. The award is presented during the NCAA Convention’s Opening Business Session.
The NCAA President’s Gerald R. Ford Award, named in recognition of former President Gerald Ford, honors an individual who has provided significant leadership as an advocate for intercollegiate athletics on a continuous basis over the course of their career.