Search this site


Joe Paterno
Football Coach

Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger but it won’t taste good.


Do the little things right and the big things will take care of themselves.

.. It is you who will make the organization work for you and you who will become victims of this system if you fail to execute your responsibilities to yourself and to your fellow human beings. You have a part to play and, if you loaf or quit, don’t sit back and complain that our method is no good. The system, the organization, the method, the government—they are you.

…Money alone will not make you happy; success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger but it won’t taste good.

This is why I enjoy coaching at Penn State so much. We set high goals for our people. My squad even has to listen to me quote Browning, who said: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?” We strive to be No. 1. We work hard to achieve our goals and when Saturday comes and we walk on the grass in this stadium, we stand as a team. We tighten up our belts. We look across at our opponents. We say, “Come on, let’s go. Let’s see how good you are. Let’s play.” We are ready. We play with enthusiasm and recklessness. We aren’t afraid to lose. If we win, great, wonderful—and the alumni are happy for another week. But, win or lose, it is the competition which gives us pleasure.

It is being involved in a common cause, which brings us joy and memories, which endure, in teammates.

It is making our very best effort, that we have stretched to the very limit of our ability, which makes us bigger men and more able to stretch again: to reach even higher as we undertake new challenges.

…I would mislead you if I told you we are close to solving our problems or that I believe that this group in its lifetime can make this world perfect. “Perfect” is an awesome word. It denotes something that we may not even recognize when we see it or have it. So you may not make our society perfect, but you can make it better. And I guess it follows that first you must get better before you can get perfect.

We like to tell our football team, “Do the little things right and the big things will take care of themselves. Don’t look for the touchdown run all the time; think about hitting in there tough play after play and then, boom, all of a sudden a big play will present itself.”

I remember telling one of our quarterbacks who was being promoted as the pre-season All-American quarterback when he asked what he had to do to make it. I told him, “Just play your game. Do all the little things right, don’t think about spectacular plays, and if you have the ability and a little luck, the big plays will come and you will be an All-American.

..There is another thing I tell my team. I tell them to keep hustling, go all out on every play no matter how bad things look because, if you keep hustling, something good will happen. A familiar cry up and down our sidelines when things are going badly is “Keep hustling, something good will happen,” and usually it does.

So keep hustling. You’ll do all right. Enjoy yourselves, enjoy life. Have some fun. Our squad enjoys kidding me because on a nice day before a game I like to walk into the locker room and say, “Boy, what a day! Oh, to be young again.” I tell them: “Enjoy the game, you will only get to play so many in your life.

... Let me end on a personal note. We have loved you because you have given us our challenge, our joy of living. You have inspired us to stretch. You have disrupted our comfortable thinking. You have made us re-evaluate, think again about our ideals and our principles. You have made us look again at our souls.

We hope you have loved each other because a little bit of you is inside one another. John Steinbeck said in “Grapes of Wrath,” “Maybe man doesn’t own his own soul, only a piece of a big man.”

I cannot adequately describe to you the love that permeates a good football team, a love of one another. Perhaps as one of my players said, “We grow together in love—hating the coach.”

But to be in a locker room before a big game and to gather a team around and to look at grown men with tears in their eyes huddling close to each other…reaching out to be part of each other…to look into strong faces, which say, “If we can only do it today”…to be with aggressive, ambitious people who have lost themselves in something bigger than they are—this is what living is all about.

We have shared four years together, years we will never forget, and we hope this short journey has made us all a little better. We wish you Godspeed and we wish you good luck. But most of all we wish you peace.

Penn State
June 1973

* * *

In an extraordinary move, the Penn State senior class committee asked Joe Paterno to be the speaker at the University’s 1973 commencement exercises. It was the only time in the history of the occasion at Penn State that a football coach has been asked to address the graduates.

Submitted by: Larry Shepherd
Posted on: 06.26.2009