Goodbye to the pope of Happy Valley

The sad part about Joe Paterno’s imminent exit after 46 years as coach at Penn State is not just that it happened under such horrific circumstances. It is that so many people worshiped a hero not worthy of adulation.

The rules have always been different for Paterno. He hadn’t won a championship for 25 years —

a quarter century — and still he was regarded as the greatest of coaches. As the list of criminal charges against his players grew, he somehow remained the ideal for moral behavior. And when he snapped at question after question, it was never seen for what it really was, bullying.

Of course, we know the truth about Joe Paterno. He protected the reputation of a longtime friend and assistant, Jerry Sandusky — and of his own program — while risking the well-being of innocent, defenseless children. Paterno will face no criminal charges because he reported the one incident of sex abuse he was aware of directly, but he is already guilty in the court of public opinion.

Paterno, the moral conscience of college sports, the Pope of Happy Valley, did the unthinkable. He looked the other way. When extraordinary action was required, Paterno did nothing. How could he? How could a man who had made such a commitment to young people for so long fail them when they needed him most?

No one will ever really know the answer because the case will be tied up in court for many years — first, the criminal charges against Sandusky and his enablers at Penn State, and then the civil cases against everyone close to the case, including Paterno. It’s hard to imagine that Paterno will ever tell his side of the story, if there is one to tell.

All we can say for sure is that he fought to the end, either because he’s still in denial that he did anything wrong or because his survival instinct is that powerful. His last public comment was a statement claiming shock at Sandusky’s indictment — shock despite a nine-year investigation and Grand Jury probe that included Paterno’s testimony.

To the public, there was no real shock over an assistant we hardly even knew, nor over the Penn State bureaucrats who allegedly perjured themselves to protect Sandusky, themselves or their university. Those people are all mortals. None of them are named Joe Paterno.

In the end, the record will show that Joe Paterno was really not much different than all the others stomping the sidelines over the past 46 years, a flawed man who was just more talented at convincing us he was better than everybody else.

Paterno will leave coaching with an indelible stain on his record and in our memories.

Castillo killing the ‘Dream’

Andy Reid’s winter brainstorm has become a tsunami. The idea of turning a 16-year NFL offensive assistant into the defensive coordinator, absurd at the time, is a full-blown disaster now. Juan Castillo is ruining this football season.

The latest indignity unfolded on Monday, when the Eagles’ defense turned a 24-17 lead into a 30-24 defeat. Castillo’s underachievers have blown four, fourth-quarter leads, more than any other NFL team. The playoffs are nothing more than a pipe dream now.

Great coaches are supposed to make their players better. Castillo has done the opposite. Nnamdi Asomugha was the biggest free-agent signing of the offseason, an elite, shutdown corner — until Castillo got his hands on him.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has become the saddest case of all. An elite cornerback last season, DRC appears dazed and confused on almost every play. He’s one step behind most of the time and he’s clearly playing out of position.

Castillo spouts a mantra of hard work, but nothing is working. And nothing will work until Reid ends this ridiculous experiment.

Thome, back to the future

An old friend came back to town. You may remember him. Jim Thome, the man who lifted the Phillies into the stratosphere eight years ago, is back.

Of course, he isn’t the same player he was when the Phils wrote him a huge check to commemorate the opening of Citizens Bank Park. A new era of big spending and even bigger winning was upon us, and the poster boy for those first few years was the affable country boy with the majestic home-run swing.

Thome’s price tag was just $1.25 million this time, not $85 million. And he’s 41, not 33. But one thing hasn’t changed. Charlie Manuel was still thrilled to have a player who is more like a son to him than merely a bat off the bench.

Manuel is one of the worst strategists in the game. He appears befuddled every time he steps in front of a microphone. But this is the kind of story that has won him a legion of fans, and a World Series. No one is better at building a relationship with his players.

When Thome was here the first time, he won a lot of games, but no title. This time, he has some unfinished business. He needs to win it — for a city that still admires him.

– Angelo Cataldi is host of 610 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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