A few weeks ago, I was invited to contribute to a special gift for my former college football coach, Joe Paterno. The gift was a compilation of letters from Joe’s former captains, bound in a book format and presented to him at the team’s end-of-year banquet.

Here is what I wrote:

Coach Paterno,

Now that I’m doing some speaking of my own, I often share a quote of yours with my audiences. After one of your many great seasons, a reporter asked you to identify the best team you ever coached. According to what I read, your answer was something like, “I don’t know yet. Ask me in 20 years. At that point, I’ll know what kind of husbands, fathers, teachers, coaches, etc. my players turn out to be.”

There are 3 things that I want to share about that statement that have impacted me:

1. Since I use that story in most of my presentations to coaches and leaders, I probably owe you some royalties from the fees that I’ve collected. The check is in the mail.

2. In your response, you create your own definition of what it means to win. “Winning” cannot be defined only in wins, rankings, or championships. Winners don’t just win football games – they extract lessons from football to win in life.

Unfortunately, there are talented athletes who don’t do nearly as well in the bigger game of life. They fail to grasp the critical concepts of teamwork, leadership, and personal accountability. Maybe their coaches didn’t share your definition of winning – coaches who will do ANYTHING to get recruits, win games, and command high salaries. Once their players are done, these lessons continue to play out because as Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Thank you for never compromising character, integrity and sportsmanship to succeed as a leader. We were watching. We were learning.

3. Well, it hasn’t been quite 20 years since I played for you, but I think you would be proud of how I’m doing. I endeavor, every day, to make a difference in the world. I embrace adversity, and learn and grow as much as I can from life’s difficulties. Simply put, I’m doing my best to take care of the little things…and the big things are taking care of themselves.

Thank you, Coach. I’m proud to be one of your students.

Your lessons live on!

Lee Rubin ‘93