Not once has Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren met former Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno, much less sat down and had a conversation.
But, as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator the past five seasons, Doeren coached against college football's all-time wins leader three times. More than that, he respected Paterno's reputation as a coach who always seemed to do things the right way.
So even though Doeren didn't know Paterno, he said he was shocked when he flipped to ESPN on Wednesday night and saw Paterno was fired after in his 46th season as head coach after former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged with molesting eight boys – with some of the alleged assaults taking place at the Penn State football complex, including one incident Paterno was told of by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary – but did not report to law enforcement officials.
"My wife and I watched the press conference, and I just said, 'I can't believe that,' " Doeren said. "The whole thing, you know. It's horrible, for everything. I don't know what part of it you can say is a fun story to read or look at. So just, you know, it's a tough situation, and obviously everyone wishes it didn't happen."
Some of Doeren's worst moments as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator were against Penn State. In two losses spanning 2007 and 2008, the Badgers defense allowed the Nittany Lions to score 86 points.
Wisconsin also beat Penn State, 13-3, in 2006, Doeren's first season.
Doeren believes Paterno's legacy as a football coach should be judged aside from his alleged shortcomings in Sandusky's sexual abuse case.
"It's obviously a very tough thing on the game," Doeren said. "I think it's two different situations. I don't think you can take what coach Paterno did there as a football coach away from what he did. But the other situation is separate from what he did as a coach.
So, the one situation obviously that you're talking about is as bad as it can be. And then what he did as a coach is as good as it can be. And I think you've got to look at it that way, as two totally separate scenarios."
– Ryan Wood, @rwood_DDC on Twitter, email@example.com