Notes of interest from Paterno press conference

Penn State coach Joe Paterno discusses the health of his team, preparing for Michigan, and the effect of joining the Big Ten on recruiting.

What can you tell us about the condition of Larry Johnson and Zack Mills?

Zack practiced a little bit yesterday (Monday) and we told Larry to take it easy. I think both of them will be fine. I will know a little bit more after today's practice. I am not going to ask them to do much today. Regardless of the fact that they were bumped a little bit, I probably would have done it anyway. I have to be careful with guys like Joe Iorio and those kinds of guys that played a lot of plays in tough football games. I have just got to kind of make sure that we don't run out of gas as we come down the stretch. I think both Larry and Zack will be fine. I really don't foresee any problems with them. Zack, obviously, continued in the game and I think Larry could have.

How much does your offensive philosophy change when a guy like Larry Johnson goes down?

The play calling has to change a little bit. There are certain things that you would, obviously, want to do with Larry in there. It is tough to change a game plan in the middle of the third quarter. You will stress different things. Hopefully, when you go into a game, you go in there with a broad enough game plan and enough flexibility that you can accommodate any kind of problems you may have. It doesn't always work out that way because the other guy has something to say with what you can do as to changing some things. The play calling, obviously, becomes a factor. Hopefully, as I said, you don't change your game plan because you have to practice what you play. One thing Bud Wilkinson said to me in 1955 when I was a young coach visiting Oklahoma during spring practice was, "Whatever you do, don't try to put something in at halftime. If you don't practice it, don't use it." I think that is not bad advice.

How do you think Mike Gasparato (Larry Johnson's backup) performed on Saturday against Wisconsin? How do you compare what he did to his style of Larry Johnson?

You are comparing apples and oranges at this stage. Mike Gasparato did very well considering that he had to go in there in the first game where he has really been under some pressure. He certainly isn't Larry Johnson yet. He is not as big, strong, quick and as experienced. I think that Mike is eventually going to be a fine tailback as Pete Gilmore will as we discussed earlier. Mike caught the ball coming out of the backfield and made a nice catch on that one. I think he is certainly good enough to play, but he is not Larry Johnson yet.

How is Deryck Toles this week and do you think he will be able to make the trip?

I don't know yet. They had him running yesterday. He is not 100 percent yet. Deryck is not a guy that shakes off injuries very easily. He has had some problems. So I am not sure whether he will be ready or not. I would keep my fingers crossed and hope that he would because he, obviously, is one of our better players. Sam Ruhe will not make it this week. I talked to the trainers and doctors. Obviously, Yaacov Yisrael and Calvin Lowry will not make it this week either. I just don't know about Deryck.

With these games all being physical battles have you had to cut down on the hitting in practice?

That is a dilemma you have every week when you are playing teams that are as strong physically and as aggressive and tough play after play as we have faced the last couple of weeks in Iowa and Wisconsin and will face this week at Michigan. I will watch them today and see how we react. We didn't have a tough day yesterday. We tried to get organized with what we want to do against Michigan. I will take a look. We are scheduled to go about an hour and fifteen minutes today. I may cut that out, I don't know. Tuesday is usually a pretty tough day for us. You literally have to do some things tough. How much is debatable, but I think that is one of those things that you play by the seat of your pants.

Why has Michigan been such a tough match-up for you in the past years? What do you think of Michigan rotating off the schedule for the next two years?

I don't like them rotating off of the schedule. I think the Penn State vs. Michigan game is a big game for our fans. I can't speak for the Michigan fans. It may not be as big for them. I think it is a good game. When they come here, we have 110, 000. You go out there and they have 110,000 and that kind of thing. I think it is something that is, maybe, exciting for the whole country. I am not crazy about that part of it. Why have they kicked our ears in? Because they have really kicked our ears in. They have been better physically and better coached. I think Lloyd Carr at Michigan might be the most underrated coach in the country. I think over the last four or five years Michigan has gotten about as much out of their material as anybody could get. I can't say that necessarily for myself. I don't know. I think they have done a great job against us. They have been tougher physically than we have been. Three of the years they beat us I think they just were better physically. I think they have had better people. The Griese's (Brian) and Brady's (Tom) were there when nobody really knew how good Griese and Brady were until they went onto the next level. We knew about the Terrell's (David) and the Walker's (Marquise) and those kinds of kids and the tailbacks. They have had good people. Not necessarily better every year than we have had, but the combination of the fact that they have good talent and Lloyd has just done a great job at Michigan. I have a lot of respect for him. He and Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin) have really done a great job against us.

Could you describe the atmosphere at Michigan in comparison to the Wisconsin crowd?

I think the atmosphere at Michigan is very similar to Wisconsin. You add 20,000-25,000 people to the Michigan as opposed to the Wisconsin crowd, but I don't think it is much different. I don't think it was much different when we played out at Illinois last year. That is one of the things that is fun about the Big Ten. There are very few places you go where you don't have an enthusiastic group and you better be ready to understand that.

Since joining the Big Ten, you have struggled the week after playing Wisconsin. What are your thoughts on that?

That is probably true to a degree. Iowa and Wisconsin are coached by people who are both western Pennsylvania kids, both of whom were on Hayden Fry's staff at Iowa and both of whom preach the same kind of hard-nosed, tough football takes a physical toll on you. It is just not Wisconsin. It is Iowa and then Wisconsin. Then it is going on the road against Michigan. Wisconsin had a week off before we played them and Michigan has a week off before we play them. Obviously, you have to use some judgement. I have to understand that you come home at 10:30 at night on a trip and you go on another plane trip the next week. All of those things are a concern to me. The point you made is a good one, but I would not just isolate Wisconsin. I think Wisconsin and Iowa are both very physical football teams as is Michigan, obviously.

A lot of Big Ten coaches felt that by Penn State joining the Big Ten Conference it would open up the East for recruiting. What are your thoughts?

I said that from day one. I said to the Big Ten coaches at one of the first meetings we were at that there are an awful lot of kids here that would be attractive to the Big Ten and particularly since we are going to play, we are not going to get them. A lot of those coaches are no longer in the conference. That is probably accurate. I think it has opened up an opportunity for people to come into the east. As I have said through the years, there are 50 million people within a 250-mile radius of State College. You go down below Washington, above New York, into Connecticut, near Boston, actually, and you are beyond Cleveland. So, hopefully, with 50 million people in an area that big you would think there would be a lot of opportunities for schools, which need particular people in particular positions. I think a lot of people don't have any idea of what recruiting is all about, particularly newspaper guys, because you don't realize that it isn't a question of who you get in the sense of who has the publicity and this and that kind of stuff. It is what your needs are. Sometimes you can't find who you need in State College, Altoona or even New Jersey. So then you start to branch out a little bit. Fortunately, with as many people and as many high schools as we have in the area that is close to Penn State, we have access, most of the time, to some kids we would need. Again, there is always some guy that pops out that is just better some place that has an interest in you. Whether it is a kid like the tailback at Wisconsin (Anthony Davis) last week, the great defensive back, Marlin Jackson, this week at Michigan whom we would have loved to have had, but Michigan did a better job probably in recruiting him or he felt it was a better opportunity at Michigan for him as a defensive back. They all play into the recruiting scenario. I had always felt that Penn State entering the Big Ten was a plus for the Big Ten in the sense of television exposure, bringing the Big Ten into the East where we have so many people playing football. So many of the Big Ten alumni are in the area. That has proven out. I don't think it is detrimental to our situation because I really believe that it is a question of whether we are good enough on a particular Saturday. We have a good football team and we have good players. We have been able to recruit the people we want in most occasions. I think your observation is right.

Did joining the Big Ten help you get players from the Midwest?

Probably. We have a fine young player, J.R. Zwierzynski, from Chicago that most of the Big Ten schools were trying get who is a freshman kid. R.J. Luke, who didn't have quite the career we hoped he would have here at Penn State, was a Chicago kid. I think that it has opened up. We could go way back to Keith Kapinski and guys like that we got out of Detroit before we were in the Big Ten. It has helped us, there is no question about it. It has probably helped us with Rich Gardner, who is a walk-on kid from Chicago. Yaacov is a Chicago kid. I think the thing that all of you guys forget is the fact that the Big Ten is such a big fraternity. There are over 3 million people who have graduated from Big Ten schools, which means one out of every 80 or 90 people in this country are Big Ten graduates of one level or the other. It is amazing how our alumni in New Jersey live next door to Michigan alumni, Ohio State alumni, Illinois alumni and vice versa. When you go to Wisconsin there are a whole bunch of people. I have a young second cousin who is 39 years old that I haven't seen since she was three months old. She has eight kids and is living out in Madison, Wisconsin. They came out to the locker room afterwards. I think the world you live in today that we are all fighting to understand with the Internet, television, globalization and all of that kind of stuff, obviously, spills down into football. We are on television every week. They announced today that we are going to have Northwestern on next week and we have Michigan this week. It isn't like the old days where if I went into Greensburg, Pennsylvania to get it kid, it was either Pitt or Penn State. There wasn't that many people who even knew about him. Good or bad, that is the way it was. We are in a whole different world. Not only as a society, but as a country. You pick up the paper and we are having problems in Colombia, we are having problems here. We have to fight Iraq and all of those things. I don't think there is any difference between that and what we are in football. There is no really regional school anymore. Everybody is pretty darn national if they want to be. In the old days Notre Dame was maybe that way. Here is a kid from New Jersey, Chris Simms, the quarterback at Texas that we thought we had all wrapped up. Then he was going to go to Tennessee, changed his mind and ended up in Texas. I think you have to just kind of forget about some of the things that you used to think were important. I don't think they are important anymore. We had a couple of kids up from Texas a couple of weeks ago and they are all enamored with the fact that it is a whole different environment up here than it is where they are and they may want to come here. That is great. If they don't want to come here, maybe there will be a kid from Brooklyn that might want to come. Brooklyn and Texas are very similar. They both have a lot of horses.

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