cover image Paterno


Joe Posnanski. Simon & Schuster, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4516-5749-4

Between bouts of coughing and wheezing, the late Joe Paterno told Sports Illustrated senior writer Posnanski (The Soul of Baseball), "You picked a hell of a time to write about a football coach." Indeed, the author had relocated to State College, Penn., in 2011 and was given prime access to write what was intended to be the definitive biography of this driven man. But by year's end, JoePa's legacy was overshadowed by a horrific child sexual abuse scandal involving former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky%E2%80%94a man Paterno never liked. The head coach was subsequently fired, and died a few months later. But Posnanski doesn't dwell on that last tumultuous year%E2%80%94he gives the man's life its full due: Paterno served in the Army, played football at Brown University, was named Penn State's head coach in 1966 (a deal sealed with a handshake), and went on to become one of the all-time winningest football coaches. He was praised by the press, became a fundraising dynamo, and made sure his players received a good education%E2%80%94for Paterno, college football was about "Teaching young men how to live." After the scandal broke and shortly before he died, Paterno implored Posnanski%E2%80%94 an accomplished writer with an unenviable task%E2%80%94to "write the truth." The author's straightforward treatment of the case might be the focus for contemporary readers, but his fair assessment of Paterno's life and illustrious career will stand the test of time. Photos. (Aug.)