“The Tree that visited New York City for the holidays”, a short film released last November by Blue White Media, has been nominated for an Emmy Award and has received the prestigious Silver Telly...
From the Archives: Joe Paterno sits down in '92 to talk family, faith, life after football and what he's reading
By Scott Ott | Reprinted with permission from the 1992 Penn State Football Annual
The football office at Penn State is in shambles when I arrive on May 19.
Coach Paterno's secretary wears a dust mask as she types a letter. Receptionist Mel Capobianco apologizes for the mess.
“They’re tearing up the carpet, painting. We’re getting all new furniture,” she says.
I point to one of the world’s longest sectional sofas and ask if this is the new stuff.
“No, that’s the old stuff,” she says smiling.
“I’ll buy it,” I say.
“You’re about the 100th person to say that,” Mel says. “I’d like to take it home too.”
Sometimes, I think you need to do a renovation, even when there’s nothing wrong with the old stuff. Why wait until it’s out of date.
Joe Paterno ambles toward me. He steps quickly, leading me silently past the misplaced upholstery to his modest office.
Photos of the 1982 and ’86 National Championship teams grace one wall, along with a bright painting of a Penn State offensive play—a gift from some PSU trustees. The coach’s hair is still black, with a little salt. His thick lenses make his eyes alternately large and invisible. He sits in a low upholstered chair; elbows on knees, hands clasped, head down. Later in our talk, he’ll lean back and put his feet up on the coffee table. Though he’s done thousands of interviews, you can see a sincere effort to treat this one as special—not for the reporter’s sake, but for the fans’. He tells Mel to hold all calls, and to interrupt him only if Reggie Givens comes in.
He speaks quietly, almost too softly for the tape recorder. He fields the traditional questions with the traditional answers. He is most animated and enthusiastic when he reminisces about concerts, about poetry, about how God has blessed his family, about what Penn State football means to the fan. Yes, he’s even excited about the offense this year. He’s telling recruits he’ll stay until he’s 70, maybe 74 if he feels good and is doing a good job. He talks about how he’ll when it’s time to go, and what he’ll do when he does. He says Penn State’s bureaucracy has frustrated him to the point where he has had to threaten “I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer” on some issues. But not often.
The overall impression Paterno gives is that of a regular guy—literally embarrassed by all the attention he gets—who loves his job, and has a hard time imagining doing anything else. He jokes that he’s afraid one of his kids will write a “Mommy Dearest”-type book about him. He says he takes his job seriously, but he doesn’t take himself seriously. He would go to Mass more often if it were still in Latin. He loves tradition. After 42 years coaching at Penn State, his office got another renovation. Joe Paterno loves it here. He’s in no hurry to leave. He concedes that if he sticks around until age 74, some of his current assistants may be too old to take over.
Annual: What are you most excited about right now?
Paterno: I’m excited because I think it’s a good bunch of kids. They’ve been fun to work with—not a lot of problems, minimal amount of problems actually. I think it’s a young team. They’re enthusiastic. They’re anxious to get good, so they’re fun to work with. I think there’s some potential on the football team if we keep everybody healthy and have a couple of breaks and everybody’s around in the fall—it’s a team that can be good. It’s not very good right now, but it can be a good team. And it’s fun to be around them.
Annual: How do you gauge the attitude of a player?
Paterno: There are a lot of things. Off the field, by his attitude toward his school work. If the kid is conscientious about his studies, discipline, about his appearance; things like that. A little pride, a little self-esteem, the way he handles himself around his teammates, whether he’s sensitive to them. And whether he’s the kind of kid who reaches out and takes part in some things around the campus. And the way he practices. The way he does things when he’s out on the field. When there’s a little enthusiasm. When he’s trying to get better. Listens to his coaches and tries to do what his coaches tell him. Coachable. Off-season—whether he’s in the weight room. Whether he’s doing some conditioning, running, so that when it does come time to practice, he’s ready to go. There’s all kinds of things; the way he handles himself, his poise, language—being able to go out on the field and not having to use four-letter words every time something goes wrong. A lot of things as far as what I think are important in their attitude that we want in our players. Now, some other people may not think that that’s the attitude they want. They may want somebody that’s a little bit more flamboyant; have a different approach to things. I don’t. I like a kid to be disciplined…concerned; has respect for his teammates, his coaches; has respect for the tradition of Penn State.
Annual: Do you recruit for that or do you feel you can take somebody who’s a natural athlete—maybe a little cocky or flamboyant—and can teach him that?
Paterno: I don’t mind if they’re a little cocky, as long as they’re not showboaters. (Former UCLA basketball coach) John Wooden used to say he doesn’t want fancy people, he wants quick people or something to that effect. I think when we recruit kids it becomes quite obvious when they’re looking over Penn State that there’s a certain type of individual who gets along better here than another type. That’s why we’ve kept our uniforms simple; don’t put names on the backs, they’re not flashy and I think that gives a message to the kid coming in that this is a disciplined, conservative program. There are certain things we think are important. I want to make sure he understands what we expect of him, as well as what he should expect from us. It’s a statement that’ made very early in our recruiting, and if a kid comes he should come in with his eyes open as to what is going to be expected of him.
Annual: Because Penn State doesn’t plan to change for that kid’s personality.
Paterno: Absolutely. I don’t think there’s anybody that good.
Annual: Has Tony Sacca changed your attitude about how you deal with quarterbacks?
Paterno: No…I treated Tony as a person, not as a quarterback. He happened to be a person who had a lot of responsibility for the success of the football team. He came in literally a boy, who was very immature; who was put under a tremendous amount of pressure very, very early, when none of us expected him to have that kind of pressure put on him. We had intended just to redshirt him, let him become a normal freshman, get into the feel of college and get a sense of what he wanted to get out of college before he got wrapped up into have to run the whole show out there and be the focal point of literally millions of people as to what Penn State football was going to be. So that was very difficult for him. It was a tough job to get him not to be so defensive all the time. He was angry about his lack of success at times. Like a lot of young people, he struck out at the system. That was the type of thing he’d do. I thought I had to be firm with him. Yet I didn’t want to kill his spirit. I don’t think that’s what I wanted…I don’t think that would have been the way to do it. I had to take him on a couple of times, but never to the point where he thought I’d lost confidence in him. And then he grew up. He matured. For the last two years, he’s been a wonderful person to have around. He’s been a great quarterback.
Annual: I guess it’s kind of a father role. You have to be willing to have them not like you all of the time.
Paterno: I think “liking” is the worst thing you can do. If you’re going out there to try to be popular, I think you gotta know what you’re all about. You gotta believe in your program and you gotta be strong. You can’t let the fans tell you what plays to call and who to play. You can’t let the kids tell you what kind of rules you oughta have and not have. I think they should have some kind of say about them. Remember, it’s their football team and we’re getting paid to coach them; to help make them as good as they want to be. You want to keep that in the back of your mind, but there are certain things you really believe in, that if you can’t sell it to the kids, you’ve gotta make them do it out of fear or discipline or the threat they won’t play, or do something. But you’ve got to be able to stick to what you believe in. You can’t change (so that) one week you believe something, next week you believe something else. They don’t need me for that. And a lot of times you do things that are very unpopular, and a lot of times kids resent it. But you hope that you’re as fair as you can be. I’d love to say to every kid ‘You’ve gotten a fair deal,’ but that’s not life. That’s impossible when you’ve got as many kids as we have to say everyone has gotten exactly the same shake. It doesn’t happen that way. So sometimes you have some misgivings as to how you handle a kid. But overall, you try to be fair and do what’s best for him and the program.
Annual: Most of your players aren’t going to play pro ball. I imagine most of them have hopes of doing that.
Paterno: Most of them come here with the idea of doing that.
Annual: How good have you been at predicting who really has the pro stuff when they come in?
Paterno: Well, there’s some you know have the potential. They’re big. They can do certain things. They’re quick. Whether they can stay the course, and whether they’re willing to work at it to get better and better—none of them are good enough, at least I haven’t had one that’s been good enough to be a pro after a year or two. Maybe after three years. It’s hard until you’ve seen whether they can handle some adversity, how they handle pressure. Are they physically tough enough? Can they play then they’re bumped up a little; things that they’ve got to be able to do in order to be a professional football player. There’s no way of telling that until you’ve been around them a while. You can look at the physical…and just the talent, and say, ‘Hey, that kid’s got enough talent to be a pro someday.’ But all of the other things that make up a professional football player; say the ability to practice and play when you’ve got aches and pains, the ability to handle tremendous pressure, the ability to make plays when they’ve got to be made. Those things you can’t tell until you’ve been around a kid a while.
Annual: Does there come a point where you recognize that?
Paterno: Oh, sure.
Annual: It’s not the day of the draft?
Paterno: Oh, no, no. You can tell that…maybe not his freshman year, but by the time you get through some practice. Freshman year, sometimes you can tell, but usually you can’t.
Annual: Can you tell more quickly when they’re definitely not pro material?
Paterno: Oh yeah.
Annual: Do you sit down with these kids and discuss their future?
Paterno: Well, I never talk about pro football with them until it becomes obvious that it is something that they’re going to have to be concerned about. We talk to them all the time about staying away from agents even when they just come in. We tell them to stay away from people that who just want to be your buddy for no apparent reason except they just want to be around you. We try all the time to talk about their grades, and getting an education. And then everything else is gravy. If you get your education, what happens happens. If you get to be a pro player, fine. But I very rarely talk to them about what kind of player they’re going to be beyond college. Once in a while I will, particularly if I’m going to make a position switch. I may look at a kid—particularly when he gets older, maybe going into his junior year or senior year—and he may like the position he’s playing., but it looks to me like if he’s got any aspirations to be a professional football player, and he has the ability, that maybe be oughta be playing another position. And then I’ll sit him down and say, ‘Look, you want to make pro football?’ He says ‘Yes.’ I say you’re not going to make it as an offensive guard, you oughta be a defensive end or something like that. And we move him.
Annual: You rarely have to sit somebody down and break it to him that he doesn’t have it?
Paterno: No, no. They know. There’s no need to. But I’m not sure. These pros, they’re crazy. They draft guys I wouldn’t believe they would even look at. I try to be realistic with (players) about graduate school and ‘Are you looking around for a job? What do you want to do?’ And some will say ‘I want to play pro football.’ And I’ll say ‘Ah, you’re kidding yourself.’ But a lot of guys won’t pay any attention to me.
Annual: What are you reading now?
Paterno: It’s by a guy by the name of Philipps. In fact, when he was writing it…he used to be with an oil company that I had spoken to their group a couple of times on motivation and things like that…I think it’s Don Philipps. He asked me to make a comment. So he sent me the draft. And I made a little comment. I just gave it a quick perusal, and then I made a couple notes and sent them back to him. And then he sent me an autographed copy. I just got finished with it. It’s been a while ago, about three months ago. I’m one of those guys that has trouble with finishing a book. I have about six things I’m reading at the same time. This one I’m going to finish. I’m enjoying this one…I start on one read a chapter here, another chapter there. I get bored with one, go back to another one.
Annual: Do you have a favorite?
Paterno: Not really. Oh, I used to read so much. I would read a book every two days at one time in my life. But I was very fortunate when I was a kid at a Jesuit high school, a fellow by the name of Dr. Fitzgerald, the librarian, who was really a great guy; he taught a lot of us speed-reading back in the 40s. So I read quickly, and I enjoyed it. But I’ve read…I mean I couldn’t tell you which one I liked the best. But anyway, there are a lot of books I thoroughly enjoyed.
Annual: How important is reading to your personal growth?
Paterno: I think it’s absolutely vital to the quality of your life. To watch the television—it’s so instant. Sure I know now people tape things and go back and look it over, and maybe that’s the answer to it/ But to sit down and read and to have your mind and your imagination take part in some things. The subtleties of good writing… Sometimes I’ll read a couple of paragraphs, and go back and read them again. Poetry; I mean, people don’t read poetry…the sense of words…as I’ve said making speeches, when I’m talking about coaches: you know good coaches should remind you that English teachers showed you how poetry is so concise. The choice of words is so important; the discipline that goes into a good poem. I don’t know where we get them anymore, unless we read.
Annual: Have you been able to transfer that passion to your kids?
Paterno: My own kids?
Annual: Your children as well as your players.
Paterno: Oh, sure. My children have all been pretty good readers. The engineer (David) isn’t a great reader. He’s never been that interested in it. But all of the others have been avid readers, actually. My wife is an English literature major and she reads all of the time. She used to read to them. So we’ve worked at it. And they read. It’s hard for me to tell whether the people on the squad read that much anymore. I don’t know. We have some, Rudy Glocker and I used to talk once in a while. He was taking a course. He was reading one of Hemingway’s books—The Sun Also Rises—and he didn’t like the ending. So I told him to see Phil Young who was an expert in Hemingway. So I said, ‘Why don’t you call up and talk it over with Phil. You might enjoy it.’ I hadn’t read the book in 25 or 30 years. I really couldn’t tell him why it had ended the way it did. But anyway. I know some of our kids read a lot. We have a big kid, Mark Flythe, a prodigious reader. I never saw him without a book. He was always reading. He enjoyed it. In fact, he wrote a little poetry himself. Interesting guy. He’s 6’6”, 290 pounds. He has hands like that [indicates huge hands]. Okay. Go ahead. You’re getting a sermon here.
Annual: You seem to have the ideal life—great job, great pay, great marriage, great kids, great attitude. Is everything really that great?
Paterno: I’ve been awfully lucky. I’ve been very, very fortunate. I worry about my kids; a couple of them, you know. I got one just married. She’s (been) married a year. You know, it looks like it’s going really well. Another girl…eh, she’s up and down. Another kid who’s a freshman at Penn. Overall, we’ve been very fortunate. They’ve all been healthy kids. I don’t have any complaints. My big problem is, you wonder why you’re so lucky, so fortunate. I go to bed at night sometimes and think, ‘God, is there something you want me to do. I owe you so much.’ You try to give some of it back in different ways. Whether you write a card to somebody that’s sick, or whether you give some money to something. You try to share it. But we’ve been very fortunate.
Annual: Do you have a sense that God has a mission for your life?
Paterno: Well, I’ve never felt that I was that important [laughs]. I think there’s a reason why He does things and hopefully He wants me to do certain things and hopefully I’m doing what He wants me to do. I’m not a born-again. I’ve got a strong religious nature. But I’m not consistent a church-goer as I used to be. My wife’s on my back all of the time about that; go to Mass more often. And I should. I really should, because I enjoy it when I do. I got a little turned off for a while because it was tough for me to go to Mass and see the way some of these kids were dressed, and the folk music, and all that stuff bothered me. I’ve got to forget about that. That’s the way kids are today. Churches accept it. I should accept it.
Annual: You want it to still be in Latin?
Paterno: Absolutely. I get sick when I hear it in English. As an altarboy I had to struggle for two months to learn the Latin to help serve the Mass. So I resent the fact that anybody can become and instant altarboy. I think it oughta be in the Latin. I really do. And I’m not comfortable with some of the liberal attitudes about certain things that the church is taking in order to be a little bit more popular.
Annual: What kind of issues?
Paterno: I don’t want to get into all that stuff.
Annual: How do you feel about the fact that thousands of people base their opinions of you on interviews like this, which is really an artificial, structured, cautious relationship?
Paterno: How do I feel about it? Well, I fight like the dickens to try not to be a phony. I don’t want to be a hypocrite. Which, as a matter of fact, is one of the reasons I got involved in this last book, because there were some things I felt were getting a little bit out of hand, as to what we were doing…what we were all about. I try all the time to say, ‘Hey, I’m not that good. I’m not either that bad, or I’m not that good. I’m just another guy, trying to get in there and do a decent job and make a go of things.’ I’m embarrassed sometimes by going places where people want autographs and things like that. I’m a little embarrassed. I was embarrassed when I went back to my 25th reunion and I get an honorary doctorate degree from Brown, when I had classmates who had done so much more than what I had done. I’m just a coach. I had a couple of guys in my class who were great surgeons. One guy was the first guy ever to be able to implant teeth. And here I’m getting the honorary doctor degree and they’re out in the audience. Well, that kind of gets to me a little bit…obviously, I was proud. I didn’t turn it down. But I’m not comfortable with either extreme. Some people get on my back about things that I had nothing to do with or I don’t even believe in some things that they think I do.
Annual: What’s it like to have spent 42 years working to do a good job, and have your decisions criticized and second-guessed by a writer who never played, never coached, never managed anything?
Paterno: [laughs] I don’t mind them. Sometimes, you should be second guessed. You know sometimes you get caught up. I think criticism is good for you. If it’s an honest attempt to assess what I’ve done, I don’t have any problems with criticism. Because sometimes I deserve it. I take my job very seriously, but I don’t take myself very seriously. I try to keep that kind of attitude about it. The second-guessing doesn’t bother me. The fans don’t bother me. I think so much of it is because they’re so interested in it [laughs], and they’re so frustrated sometimes when things don’t go well that they just…’Why’d he do that? Why didn’t he do this?’
Annual: You’re a fan of Penn State basketball.
Annual: Do you go to the games often?
Paterno: As often as I can.
Annual: When you’re a fan, do you ever sit back in the stands and…
Annual: …and say, ‘Parkhill, you idiot. What are you doing?’
Paterno: I’ll sit there and say once in a while, to (Athletic Director) Jim Tarman, ‘I hope he gets that kid out of there pretty quick.’ Like, ‘Bruce, get him out. Put someone…’. But that’s all part of the fun of going to a game. If I’m going to sit up there, I want to get into the game. And that’s why I appreciate the fans. Vince Lombardi grew up in the next parish to me in Brooklyn. And here he was winning those Super Bowls, and I went to a game with my high school coach one time to watch the Packers play New York. My high school coach and I were second-guessing Lombardi the whole day [laughs]. That all goes with the game, and I’m mature enough to understand that. That doesn’t bother me.
Annual: What’s the role of the sports reporter in the big picture?
Paterno: It’s changed obviously. Unfortunately the sports reporters are just like the rest of the media right now. They get into things that, really, I’m not so sure they should; like peoples’ personal lives. The off-the-field stuff becomes much more sellable. That’s the only way I can describe it. I think the sports reporter ought to go and report what he sees. He ought to try to catch the drama of the game, the excitement of the game; give an accurate description of what happened. Now, that’s hard to do these days, because a lot of those games have been on television. So now they want to get the players…’How come you didn’t carry the ball more? Are you in Paterno’s doghouse?’ [laughs] It’s always so much of the negative to it now. It isn’t a question of stressing the guy who won. So much of it is the guy who lost; who blew it. You know, ‘Why’d he do that dumb thing.’ Instead of, ‘Hey, boy, wasn’t that a great play. Wasn’t it a great game. At a key spot, second and two, so-and-so came up with that great defensive play.’ Not that somebody fumbled the ball. Somebody really hit him hard and created the fumble. Things like the positive would be my way of reporting. But I don’t have to go out and be responsible to a sports editor who’s gotta sell papers. So they gotta do what they have to do.
Annual: What’s the role of the fan in the game? What should the fan do?
Paterno: I think a fan oughta do whatever he wants to do. I don’t think there should be any prescribed way a person should act when they go to a game. I think he’s a fan; whatever the definition of fan would be. I think you go to the game to enjoy it. I’ve always thought that an athletic event for a true fan is like going to a concert. When I was a kid I used to go up to Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony. The drive up from New York was beautiful. It was in the summertime, up through the mountains, the Berkshires. And they used to have these concerts in a big open shed. You’d sit down on the lawn. It was great. I used to look forward to it. There would be two or three concerts on a weekend. And I would come home and I would think of…whether it was a violin concerto, or whether it was a Mozart symphony or something…and I would remember it, think about it. It would make me feel good. I would go and buy a record of it and put the record on. It would bring back things. See, I think that a fan should go to a football game at Penn State; derive up on a beautiful day, appreciate the whole bit. Go on to the game, and just enjoy the game. And if there’s a play that excites him, go back home and think about it. I once had an alumnus who was a very, very successful businessman, who was really caught up in football. And I used to say to him, ‘You know, some nights I can’t sleep. I sit back and think about somebody’s great play or a kickoff return and it really adds some quality to my life. It gets me out of the syndrome that I’m in when I’ve got a lot of problems that carry over from the business day.’ And that’s what I think that a fan should get out of a concert. I think a fan should come up, and even if the team gets licked, if it’s a really good football game, not if the team doesn’t hustle and it’s sloppy, which sometimes happens, you know, poorly coached…sure then you oughta be angry, because you paid and you came to see something. It’s just like if you when to see a concert and it was a lousy concert; somebody wasn’t prepared. You’d be angry about that. So I think that it’s something that should add to the quality of the life of the fan. It shouldn’t be what we’ve got where people try to identify with the gladiator. They come up here, or a lot of places, and they’re anti the other team. They boo the other team. I hate people booing people. I mean, why? I used to have a guy around here by the name of Aaron Druckman who was a philosopher. And he got into sports philosophy. He came in my office. He was a guy with a beard, long hair…he looked like a mountain man. One day he came in and said, ‘I just came back from skiing. I had the greatest ski run. I came down from that mountain and I looked at the mountain and said, ‘Mountain, I love you. I love you.’ He said, ‘Because if that mountain hadn’t been there, I could not have skied it. And that’s the way the competition oughta be. If the other guy isn’t good, there’s no fun to it.’ You need somebody to make it worthwhile. And fans don’t appreciate that. It’s like, ‘To heck with that.’ They want a rout. They want it 60 to nothing. I don’t know what the devil they get out of a 60-nothing game.
Annual: Like the, what was it, 81-nothing game last year (against Cincinnati)?
Paterno: Aw, that’s the most horrible experience I’ve ever been through.
Annual: That’s not even fun to coach?
Paterno: Nah. Nobody gets any good out of it. You don’t get anything out of it when you win and the other guy gets embarrassed. You’re not out there to embarrass anybody.
Annual: Why do you think Bruce Parkhill interviewed with Villanova on the eve of Penn State’s entry into the Big Ten and the construction of the new arena?
Paterno: That wouldn’t be fair for me…I think you oughta ask Parkhill that. There’s a lot of reasons. There might be personal reasons. I don’t know. I think the important thing is that he’s not gone. He stayed. I think that’s the important thing as far as Penn State is concerned, and I’m delighted. But I think he’s got a tough job and I think he’s aware of that. We have to upgrade. We gotta get two or three great players. I mean really great players. Not good ones. I’m talking about as good as anybody has, if we’re going to compete in the Big Ten successfully. I don’t mean win the championship every year. He’s got a tough job ahead of him. I think everybody’s got to go to bat and help him to put that program at the next level. Because he’s right there now. He’s close. So I’m glad he stayed, because I think if we all get behind him, it can be done.
Annual: Will the Big Ten require “going to the next level” for the football team too? Do you have to notch up a bit?
Paterno: Well, we’ll see. You know, our recruiting is a lot easier than Bruce’s. We can recruit against anybody…and he has not…I think he brought in two kids…but again I think you oughta talk to him. But I think for him to (recruit) one-on-one with, say, a Villanova in Philadelphia, is tough, or against North Carolina. Right now he’s not in that position where he’s going to be in the four or five visits the kid’s going to make.
Annual: You’ve been talking about retiring [Paterno laughs] at least since 1980. Why bother retiring? Isn’t it more glorious for the warrior to die in battle?
Paterno: That’s fine if the warrior can still warrior. Well, I think you’ve got to be more realistic. I don’t want to be in this job unless I can do a good job. If I don’t think I can do a big league job, I don’t want to be. One of the reasons I started putting in time modules—right now I’m talking about going until I’m 70. Otherwise, I’d just go year to year to year. But people use it against you when you’re recruiting. Bobby Bowden just signed a contract to coach until he’s 70. Hayden fry just signed a contract to coach until he’s 70. Because of the very reason I just stated, I say 70. I may get to be 68, 69 and feel really good and say, ‘I’m going to coach, if the university will let me, until 74.’ I don’t see any reason I have to retire if I feel like I’m doing a good job. But you always hope that somebody’s going to whisper in your ear. Like when the Roman conquerors used to come home. When they come down into Rome there used to be a guy riding alongside of him whispering in his ear, ‘Fame is fleeting. Fame is fleeting.’ You get yourself humbled. I hope there’s somebody whispering in my ear, ‘Hey, you’ve had it.’
Annual: Who do you trust who could honestly tell you, ‘Look Joe, that’s it. You’ve had enough?’
Paterno: If it were this year, I’d sit down with a couple of guys on the staff and say, ‘Look, what do you think’. Let’s say this year we’re having a bad year bad next year we have a bad year. I’d sit down with the staff and say, ‘Is it me? I want an honest opinion.’ I’d figure out a way that I would get an opinion from them, because they would know better than anyone.
Annual: But you’re their boss, Joe.
Paterno: I’d maybe tell them, ‘I want you all to go home and type a letter up. I don’t want to see any names on it. Nine letters.’ You know, I’d do it that way. I’d find out. I’d find out.
Annual: Is there anybody who really knows you?
Paterno: I think my family knows me. They know all of the warts [laughs]. I’m always afraid one of them is going to write one of those books like Mommy Dearest. That’ll be the end of it. I think my family knows me well enough. I think Sue knows me. She’s praying for me. She has a feel for those things. The girls are starting to get a little bit of a sense of where I’m coming from.
Annual: Do you get to spend more time with the kids?
Paterno: Ah, well, it’s more meaningful time. You know, conversation. We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve been able to get them home fairly frequently. And when we’re home we get into all kinds of discussions.
Annual: Johnny Carson spent two years grooming a successor who’s completely changed the show. Do you have that obligation to groom somebody?
Paterno: Absolutely. The last time I talked about staying on, I was supposed to consult with the people at the university about whom would think could step in. I think there are several key people on the staff that would be ready to step in and take over. I’ve tried to give them the type of responsibility that they could be heard coaches. So I would be comfortable if it were tomorrow. Now if I go much longer; if I go to 72, 73, some of them may be too old or may not even want it. But I would feel comfortable right now. When I turn it over, I want to turn it over. Give the person coming in a good shot. I want to leave some meat on the bones. I don’t want to leave the cupboard bare when I go.
Annual: No matter how well you set up your successor, isn’t there bound to be a letdown for a couple of years?
Paterno: Well, I don’t know about that. I look at the Michigan situation. And I look at Gary Moeller slowly starting to (build a program). The Rose Bowl is maybe two or three years if Michigan football continues to be as good as it’s been the past couple of years, and Gary will continue working hard to improve morale. He’s got a feel for what Michigan football is all about. He’s not trying to push Bo Schembechler out of it, and Bo’s not trying to stick his two cents in it. Bo wanted Gary to do well. Gary appreciated what Bo’s done and tried not to do a lot of things that would be a little bit different than the Michigan tradition that had been built up. I think that’s what would happen here. I think the guys who would take over would do well. If the university would ever accept somebody from the staff and would go along with what I think should be done, there wouldn’t have to be a big turnover in the staff. I think they would carry on. As soon as they had some success, after a couple of years; people will still remember Paterno, I hope. But Paterno isn’t going to be sitting around second-guessing anybody.
Annual: You’re not going to be the athletic director?
Paterno: No way. No way. I’m going to do just like Rip Engle did when he turned (it) over. He never second-guessed me. All he ever did was help. And if they want me to help, I’d never turn them down.
Annual: Paint me a picture of Joe retired-guy; What do you do?
Paterno: That’s my problem; I don’t know what I’d do. I know I’ll read. I’ll go down to the ocean and walk the beach. I love to go to the shore. I don’t want to get into that golf syndrome where you get up in the morning and play golf, then go to a cocktail party, eat dinner, go to bed, get up in the morning and play golf. I’d try to find something to do that I was physically able to do. I’m very sensitive to what’s going on in the inner cities, having grown up in the Bedford- Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. I’ve thought if you had the kind of money you’d like to have, you’d like to go in there and do what some of the business people have done, and adopt a class in a school. Spend time with them. So you would wake up in the morning where you…you don’t have an eight-to-five job, but you’re going to visit the school, spend some time. You’re going to take some of the kids, maybe, on a trip. You’re going to take them to a museum. You’re going to take them to New York’s public library. Whet their appetites and try to create a whole different projection of what they can do with their lives. Create new horizons for them. Because basically I’m an egghead. I’m always on stage teaching, selling. And I would enjoy that. And I think my wife and I could do that together, because she enjoys that. I mean something like that. I just would not want to just go to pasture.
Annual: How has it been working with the Penn State bureaucracy?
Paterno: It’s a bureaucracy. I try to work within kit. I’ve always felt that I want to go by the rules, chain of authority; go to Jim Tarman. Jim goes to Steve Garban. Work with the trustees, the president, the faculty senate, if it’s something they should have a say about, work through them. But every once in a while the bureaucracy gets a little bit overbearing. And every once in a while, I’ll be very frank with you, I’ll threaten. ‘Hey, enough’s enough. We gotta get this thing moving. It’s a question of whether you guys are right or I’m right. And I feel, with my experience, my feelings are that we gotta do this, and I really can’t take no for an answer.’ I’ve done that a couple of times. Very infrequently. Not very often…maybe three, four times in the 26 years I’ve been head coach. Because I don’t like to do that. I think everybody’s got responsibility and I want to be a company/team player. But I think there comes a time every once in a while that you gotta try to do some things that are outside the bureaucracy.
Annual: What would be a thing you’d have to do for that?
Paterno: Let’s take the Big Ten. When we made up our minds that we wanted to get into the Big Ten, if we had gone to the president or the faculty senate, and they had said, ‘No.’ Maybe not the faculty senate, but the president, said, ‘I think we’re better off as an independent football team,’ and gives me good reason. Then I would do everything I could to say, ‘Hey, believe me, this is the best. We can’t take ‘no’ for an answer.’ Something like that.
Annual: Did you have to do it on that issue?
Paterno: Oh, no. Dr. (Bryce) Jordan was delighted. So was the faculty. No. That’s why I brought it up. It would have to be something very important to the whole program, not just football.
Annual: Will entering the Big Ten dispel the criticism that Penn State plays a weak schedule?
Paterno: No. I know a lot of people thing the Big Ten doesn’t have a lot; just a couple of tough teams. I think it will make things a lot tougher than a lot of people realize. We have a lot of people who think we’ll go into the Big Ten and get clobbered. I don’t think that’s a fair criticism. There are a couple of things where perception becomes reality. We won the national championship in 1982 playing what at that time was evaluated as the toughest schedule in the country. I don’t think people really know how tough this schedule is. Some years it plays easy. Some years it plays a lot tougher than people will give it credit. Same way that people like to think I’m conservative. I am not conservative. I’m not a conservative football coach.
Annual: But you want the Latin back in Mass.
Paterno: I create the perception. That doesn’t bother me (for people to say) we won’t take chances.
Annual: Does that allow you to do something wild then if you have to?
Paterno: I like to tease people. If they want to think that, fine. But when you’re talking about how much you throw the ball. There are some schools out there, when they’re trying to recruit some quarterback, they’ll say we don’t throw the football. So I say down with the kid and I said, ‘Now, you tell me. We played Maryland—who threw the ball more, Maryland or Penn State? Penn State. When we played Virginia, who threw the ball more. We played Pitt. Who threw the ball more?’ I went through four or five teams who have the reputation of being wide-open, throw the ball all over the place. And we had thrown the ball more times in the game we played than they had thrown against us. So that broke down that thing.
Annual: You’d just as soon have other teams believe you don’t throw the ball much?
Paterno: Certainly. Let them think we’re conservative. It makes it easier to be successful when you’re un-conservative.
Annual: This is the 10th edition of the Penn State Football Annual. Thousands of readers own every issue. What would you like to tell these loyal fans to look forward to in ’92?
Paterno: I think it’s going to be an exciting team to watch. I think we have a chance to be a good offensive team. I’m a little concerned about us defensively. We did not come out of spring practice with a defensive unit that I’m comfortable with yet. Now we have a lot of kids that weren’t out there. Derek Bochna wasn’t out there. Chris Cisar wasn’t out there. We have two really fine young players who didn’t practice; Willie Smith and Cisar. Brian Gelzheiser was not out there. So there’s a lot of players that were not out there. Richard McKenzie wasn’t out there.
Annual: Were those players injured?
Paterno: Cisar and Bochna were out for baseball. Smith had been injured. McKenzie out: we wanted him to concentrate on his studies. Gelzheiser had gone through a problem; suspended for the semester. But I think offensively we’re going to be an exciting football team. A young team. A I think they’ll enjoy it. I really do. I think the schedule is challenging, regardless of what people say. I think all the teams in the east are going to be better. BC’s going to be better. West Virginia’s going to be better. Pitt’s going to be better. I think Boston College is going to be a tough football team. Rutgers, Temple…all bright young coaches who recruited well. Plus we gotta play Miami. Gotta play Notre Dame. We gotta go out to BYU. I think it will be a tough schedule, but I think it will be a fun season.
Ah, the clichés are all finally out. “Fall in love.” “Pumpkin spice and everything nice,” “Fall for these deals”—you get the idea.
Nonetheless, the season of changing leaves, funky scarves...
Don’t you feel like construction and roadwork is happening everywhere these days? It feels as though not a day goes by without passing by a construction site or crew working on the side of the...
The Penn Stater’s home in Innovation Park makes it the perfect location for a business lunch (none of the hassle of downtown traffic or parking garages), slow Sunday brunches or a celebratory...