Long-time Assistant Football Coach Joe Sarra Dies
July 20, 2012
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Joe Sarra, a member of the Penn State football coaching and administrative staff for 21 seasons, passed away Thursday in State College. He was 75.
Sarra coached the linebackers, defensive interior line and served as administrative assistant over the course of 20 years. He began his Penn State coaching career in 1984 as the inside linebackers. In 1993, he became the Nittany Lions' defensive line coach. Sarra assumed new duties in 2000 as an assistant to the head coach for special projects, a position he held through the 2004 season, when he retired.
During his 16-year career as an assistant coach, Sarra helped Penn State earn 15 bowl berths, topped by the National Championship team in 1986 and the 12-0 Big Ten and Rose Bowl Championship squad in 1994. During Sarra's tenure, Penn State won nine bowl games.
Sarra was instrumental in the development of linebacker Shane Conlan, a first-team All-American in 1985 and '86 and first-round draft pick by the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Andre Collins, a starter for the Washington Redskins and 10-year NFL veteran, was the second of Sarra's linebackers to earn first-team All-America honors. Sarra proteges Keith Goganious and Mark D'Onofrio, who were standouts on the 1991 Nittany Lion defense, also played in the NFL.
Sarra was instrumental in the early development of defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, a 2002 first-team All-American and a member of the New York Giants' Super Bowl XLVI title team. Another pupil, tackle Lou Benfatti, won first-team All-America honors in 1993 and played three years with the New York Jets before an injury ended his career. Sarra also coached Brandon Noble, an All-Big Ten honoree and Penn State's team MVP in 1996, who also played for the Redskins.
"Coach Sarra was a unique individual," said Bob White, a co-captain on the Nittany Lions' 12-0 title team in 1986. "He incorporated humor and enthusiasm in his style of coaching and teaching and it was very much welcomed by the players he coached. I will miss him and being around him."
Sarra was a behind-the-scenes hero for former Penn State cornerback Adam Taliaferro and his family after Taliaferro suffered a serious neck injury during the Nittany Lions' 2000 game at Ohio State. Sarra quickly became Penn State's point person with the Taliaferro family during the true freshman's recovery and rehabilitation in the Philadelphia area.
"He was a great coach but an even better person," said Taliaferro, who is a New Jersey attorney. "He became a part of my family; an extension of our family. He stayed with my family for the first two weeks after my injury. He was our family's rock during a difficult time with his encouragement and help. Coach Sarra had a heart of gold, was a special person and will be missed."
From Belle Vernon, Pa., Sarra began his coaching career in 1961 as the head coach at East Washington (Pa.) High School. He then served as an assistant coach at Belle Vernon (Pa.) High School in 1962-63 and at Hempfield (Pa.) High School for three years. Sarra was head coach at Southern Columbia High School from 1967-69.
In 1970, Sarra was named head freshman football coach at Miami (Ohio). He moved to Lafayette College as offensive coordinator in 1971 and from 1976-82 served as the Leopards' defensive coordinator.
Sarra was a 1960 graduate of California (Pa.) State University with a degree in social studies education and guidance. He played linebacker and fullback for the Vulcans from 1957-59, helping the 1958 Cal team to an 8-0 record and the PSAC Championship. He earned a master's in secondary administration and counseling from West Virginia in 1964.
The Awards and Honors Committee of the California Alumni Association selected Sarra as the recipient of the Michael Duda Athletic Medallion in 1992. In 2009, he was inducted into the Cal U Athletic Hall of Fame. Sarra also was inducted into the Mid-Mon Valley All-Sports Hall of Fame.
Sarra is survived by his wife, Barbara, sons, Joe, Jr., and Scott and three grandchildren.
Visitation will be held Sunday, July 22, from 5-8 p.m. at Koch Funeral Home, 2401 S. Atherton Street, in State College. A memorial service will be held Monday, July 23 at 10 a.m. at Koch Funeral Home.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in memory of Sarra can be sent to: The Joe Sarra Football Scholarship, The Foundation for California University of Pennsylvania, PO Box 668, California, PA 15419
- Statement from Tim Sweeney; President, Penn State Football Letterman's Club
"It is with heavy hearts that The Penn State Football Letterman's Club sends our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family and friends of Coach Joe "Buddy" Sarra. Buddy will forever be remembered in Penn State Football lore for his hard-driving and intense approach to developing his players both on and off the field but that should never overshadow how much he cared about every Penn State Football player in the locker room. Having Buddy as my position coach along with so many other former players, all of us proudly embrace the "Buddy's Boys" moniker and we will always remain his. His devotion to Penn State Football is only surpassed by the devotion of his loving wife, Barb, and their sons. To them, on behalf of Penn State Football, we thank you for sharing so much of Joe with us. Feet and courage."