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Missouri coach Gary Pinkel stepped on a media relations landmine Tuesday when asked about his thoughts regarding Joe Paterno and the situation at Penn State.
He could have taken the road many have already taken by simply saying the situation was unfortunate. Instead, he decided to defend Paterno, an action that isn't winning him any popularity contests.
"Joe Paterno's a friend that I got to know professionally, and you can't take away the greatness of this man," Pinkel said. "He was a great man. However you analyze this, you can't erase all that this guy's done. You can't do that. Nobody can do that."
Paterno was a great coach, but as a man his greatness has been called into question in the past six months and has torn apart the Penn State community in the past week.
The release of the Freeh Report, an independent investigation into Penn State and its connection to the child sexual abuse scandal surrounding former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, revealed a massive cover-up of Sandusky's actions — some of which occurred on the Penn State campus — by Paterno and others in Penn State administration. This news has prompted investigations by the NCAA and the Department of Education, and calls for major sanctions by both entities and Paterno's Penn State legacy to essentially be wiped away.
But coaches stick up for each other, that's what they do. And Paterno was a mentor to many of today's coaches and was beloved by those same men. Still, even SEC commissioner Mike Slive cautioned about holding coaches — even great coaches — in such high esteem.
"Last week's headlines remind us that we must be ever vigilant on all issues of integrity, and that our primary mission is to educate and protect young people," Slive said during his State of the SEC speech. "We must maintain an honest and open dialogue across all levels of university administration. … No one program, no one person, no matter how popular, no matter how successful, can be allowed to derail the soul of an institution."
Pinkel called the events "tragic" but then admitted he didn't read a lot about them. But that didn't stop him from turning the situation around and making Paterno the victim.
"He was a great man, a good man," Pinkel said. "I'm sure he would, maybe if he could do it over again he would have followed up a few things. But don't take away all this guy did, and to sit there and blame him for all this, I think is wrong."