Community Service Award in Honor of Joe Sarra
Coach, Friend, Advisor
Joe Sarra was a football coach for 40 years, but he has been more than just a coach to most of the players, fellow coaches and football fans he met in his career. Joe was a friend and advisor to many of his players, an honest, hard worker to his coaching colleagues, and a caring and compassionate man to the thousands of other people met over the decades. Football and family has been his passion but helping others was his avocation.
Joe is typical of the Western Pennsylvania young men of his generation. They were the children of hard working blue collar families, sons of the tough and intense men who labored in the hot steel mills or underground in the dusty coal mines. Don't follow us, the fathers told them. Make something of yourself, they said. Go to college and get an education, they urged. And sports -- particularly football -- was the way to do it.
Sarra left his home in Belle Vernon, 20 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, in 1956 and entered a small college down the road, then known as California State Teachers College. He went there to play football, and to be a teacher, studying social studies education and guidance. After graduation in 1960, he stayed in the area and was hired by East Washington High School to teach social science with additional duties as the head coach of the football team. That would be the start of his lifetime dream - to coach football and teach young men.
A year later, Joe was back in his hometown as an assistant coach at Belle Vernon High School, and guidance counselor. But that wasn't enough for Sarra. He was also continuing his education, working part-time on a Master's Degree in secondary administration and counseling from the University of West Virginia, just across the state line from the football hotbeds of southwestern Pennsylvania. He did that in 1964, the same year he became an assistant coach at nearby Hempfield High School.
However, Joe wanted to be a head coach again. So, in 1967 he left western Pennsylvania for the hard coal region, becoming the head coach and social studies teacher at Southern Columbia High School. He loved his job but he wanted more. He had always wanted to coach in college, and in 1970 he had his chance, when Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, hired him as an assistant. Sarra never looked back.
The next season, 1971, Lafayette University came calling, and Joe spent the next 12 years there, first as the offensive coordinator until 1975 and then as the defensive coordinator. Now, Joe really felt the passion of coaching defense. Joe knew he could coach defense at a higher level.
In 1984, Penn State hired Sarra as the inside linebackers coach. Nine years later, Sarra was promoted to defensive line coach, and he stayed there through the 1999 season, when he moved into the front office as an administrator, retiring in 2005.
Throughout his professional career, Joe was always involved in volunteer work for the communities he lived in. Perhaps his greatest service to the community and to Penn State was his dedication to the rehabilitation of Adam Taliaferro, the Penn State cornerback who was paralyzed in a game against Ohio State in 2000. Joe was the liaison with the Taliaferro family and spent many of his days with Adam and the family in the year that Adam recovered and was able to walk again.
William Archer Andrews Mills