First Memories Of Joe Paterno

Alabama Coach Nick Saban leads the Crimson Tide out of the tunnel on game days. The Crimson Tide coach has memories of seeing Joe Paterno lead the Nittany Lions out of the tunnel...when Saban was a teenager.

On Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Nick Saban will lead Alabama out of the tunnel to face the Pennb State Nittany Lions of Coach Joe Paterno. Bama, ranked first in the nation, and Penn State, also nationally ranked, will kick off at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday with national television coverage by ESPN.

This week Saban was remembering his first memory of Paterno and Penn State.

"They use to play West Virginia all the time and that was a big game and I went to it when I was a kid," Sabans said. "I don't remember how old I was, but I remember Joe Paterno leading the team out. We (WVU) didn't win many of those, I don't know if we ever won any when I was growing up in West Virginia. I was rooting for the Mountaineers, but it was always the big game to go see Penn State."

Saban said, "One thing when you play Joe Paterno-coached teams, which we've had some experience doing, they do a great job of executing, they don't give you much, they really kind of win on effort, toughness, execution and discipline. I don't think this team is any different. They were very impressive last week in beating Youngstown State. They have established systems on offense, defense and special teams that their players really understand and do a good job of executing.

"They have made changes through the years and made changes from last year to this year. A lot of it is based on personnel, some of it in the kicking game in terms of the system. But one thing remains the same; they play with a lot of discipline. They play with guys that will go out and execute and do their job and not make foolish mistakes or get foolish penalties. I think they have proven over time that they know how to win. That is because they are a very basic, fundamental team in their approach. They execute what they do. It is not about fooling you all the time, it's about ‘This is what we do; what are you going to do to stop it?' and they are pretty good at it."

Saban is aware that Paterno was being criticized for some poor seasons a few years ago. Saban thought the criticism was unwarranted, but more than that admires Paterno for making the changes necessary. "They got back very quickly to being one of the dominant teams in the country," Saban said. "They won 11 games last year. They have a lot of good players back from that team."

Although Saban said he has been most influenced by the coaches he has worked for and with, he said that men like Paterno and former FSU Coach Bobby Bowden have also influenced him in how they did things. He called them ambassadors for the game who have done things in a first-class way, and said he had attempted to emulate that characteristic.

Saban discussed some of the top players for the Nittany Lions, including running back Evan Royster and freshman quarterback Robert Bolden.

Saban said, "They have a great runner in Royster, who has been there for several years and may end up being the all-time leading rusher in Penn State history. I think they have great size and speed at receiver –probably unique to what we're used to seeing in terms of the size of receivers that they have. You can say they have a freshman quarterback playing, but he sure didn't play like a freshman last week. He played extremely well, was very poised, is a good passer and is very athletic and accurate. Their defense is very quick. They have size and good pass rushers at defensive end, explosive, quick guys on the interior, very fast, instinctive linebackers and three out of four starters coming back in the secondary. Special teams wise, they were very impressive with a kickoff return for a touchdown last week and sort of dominated the game in special teams last week. This is a good overall, all around team that doesn't give you much and that we're certainly going to have to bring our A-game to be able to do a good job against them."

Saban was asked if, like Paterno, he might still be coaching at age 83. "I don't see that happening," the 58-year-old Saban said with a smile.

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