Paterno Press Conference Recap

The Nittany Lion coach met the media in person for the first time since his injury. Hear what he had to say about Outback Bowl opponent Tennessee, his recovery from surgery on his left leg and much more in this FOS Audio File. The PSU sports information transcript is here, too.

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno met the press at the Beaver Stadium media room Thursday. Hear what he had to say below.

Hear Joe Paterno Here.

Also, here is the PSU Sports Information transcript.

How would you assess your season to this point?

We knew when we went into it that it was going to be a tough early start. Outside of the Notre Dame game, I think we played hard and competitively. Against Notre Dame we were sloppy, but, of course, they played a really good game. As I said after the game, I thought they outsmarted us with the fake punt. Other than that, I think we were very competitive against good teams. All four teams that beat us are probably in the Top 12 or 15 in the country. Wisconsin and Ohio State we had to play on the road are two of the top teams in the country, as is Michigan and we played them a tough game. I think that if we got a break here or a break there, I would have been more comfortable if we had another win. I felt that maybe we played up to our potential. Overall, I think, as we look back, the kids hung in there and got a little better each week. I think that is all you can ask. I have got some satisfaction with the season.

After the Michigan State game, Galen (Hall) said the coaching staff would evaluate the offense to see what worked and what didn’t work. What changes, if any, will take place for the Outback Bowl on offense?

We are a little bit behind where we probably want to be because we really felt, and everybody led us to believe, that we were going to play Auburn. I know I spent a lot of time looking at Auburn tapes and then all of a sudden it was Tennessee and I am trying to get caught up myself as to evaluate what we have to do and not do. I think that Galen may be a little too critical of the offense. We played some good defensive teams. I think the big thing we have to do is to learn how to hang onto the football and not make mistakes when we get into scoring position, the things which hurt us in games and made some games closer than they should have been and took us out of a couple of games where we were playing well. We don’t have a lot to do. We have to do a little better, obviously. You always have to get better, but I don’t think we are going to make any traumatic changes. I would be surprised about that.

Can you talk about what the next three or four weeks could do for Anthony Morelli and how you expect him to use this time to progress and even his backups?

Anthony is so close. The biggest thing we have to do with Anthony is to realize at times the pass protection is going to breakdown and don’t worry about running all over the place. He is not that kind of a quarterback. Take the ball, try to get back to the line of scrimmage and take the three or four yard loss instead of some of the big losses. He is a little late sometimes making up his mind on some deep throws. Other than that, we picked the right plays and if we can get just a little stronger running game to go with our passing game, it will take a little pressure off of Anthony, particularly, in the way that people can put their ears back and come after him, I think he will take the next step up. Overall, I think under a lot of pressure against good defensive football teams, he has held in there pretty good. The only criticism I would have of him are the two things I mentioned. Once in awhile, he hangs onto the ball too long and he scrambles around back there when that is not really his forte.

You have had pretty good success over the years against SEC teams. A lot of them are noted for speed. How do you contain speed with the defense?

It starts off with lining up in good position and then you anticipate certain things and then you have some people who can run themselves. I have not felt that when we have played the Southeastern Conference teams that we have played that they were necessarily faster than we were. I think we have a team that can run. The big thing is that good defensive football teams lineup properly. With all of the formations you have to play against these days, they don’t get themselves in a bad position, they anticipate certain things, they play a step faster than, maybe they are, because they recognize things. That is what you are always trying to get them to do, to recognize formations, recognize tendencies, be in good position, know where you buddies are and help each other. It is really a team doing. I think speed, obviously, is a problem for us. They have, not only good speed, but wideouts…No. 3 (Robert) Meachem is an outstanding football player, but they have an excellent quarterback (Erik Ainge) who, I think, has thrown for over 200 yards the last eight or nine games. It is a good football team. They have only lost to three of the best teams in the country…LSU by a couple of points, Florida by a couple of points and to Arkansas. Those are three of the better teams in the country.

When you think back on your defense during the regular season, how impressive, in your view, was it that you were able to hold Ohio State and Michigan to two touchdowns apiece?

That was a great effort. The defense did a really good job. As you said, Ohio State got two touchdowns off two interceptions late in the game against us and that was not the defense’s fault. I think the defense played very well. The only ballgame I would feel that we were not as aggressive or weren’t as alert as we should be would be the Notre Dame game. We made some mistakes in that ballgame, but other than that, we have played very solid defensive football and we have kicked well. (Jeremy) Kapinos has kicked well. The combination of the kicking, which has helped our field position and playing solid defense, being in good position and not giving up a lot of big plays, that combination has kept us in most of the ballgames.

What do you think the biggest difference for the offensive line will be next season?

We have a tough game to play on New Year’s Day and that is all I am worried about, getting this football team ready to play as well as they can play in a couple of weeks and go from there.

Go over your decision to bring Galen Hall back to Penn State talk about what he brings to the table.

Galen Hall has been an outstanding coach wherever he has been. He was the head coach at Florida the first time they ever won the Southeastern Conference Championship. He was a great offensive coordinator with Oklahoma when they won their National Championships. I have always admired him and admired his football sense and the way he handles people. He came here as a graduate assistant two years because of the fact that he had gotten, what I thought, was a bad wrap for some things that happened in Florida and he just did a wonderful job for us. He has been a great addition. I think that last year they did a super job taking advantage of what we had. We went into this season with a very difficult schedule. He has kept them together. I keep coming back to we have just got to do a better job of hanging onto the football, and you do that and we are not bad.

Where does Tony Hunt rank among the main running backs that you have coached? Why has he been able to be as productive as he has been?

He has learned patience. Tony reminds me a great deal of a kid that played for us that left early and was from down around the same area of Maryland and then went with the Giants for years with (Bill) Parcells, fullback Richie Anderson. He is a big back. He is smart, can block and catches the ball well. He is a complete football player. The only thing he needed to do was have just a little bit more patience and he has had that this year. He has hung in there and waited for an opening, took advantage of it and made 20-yard runs out of what, ordinarily, would have been three or four for him, maybe, a year or so ago. He is a really good back.

Are you a little surprised or even a little embarrassed about all of the attention your injury has created?

To be honest with you, yes. I have a bunch of guys that have worked awfully hard to do a good job coaching. I am out there and I critique things. I have been able to go to all of the practices that we have had since we got the bowl bid. I had a squad meeting yesterday so I can make my contribution, but whether I am out there or not out there, really, with the guys that I have on the staff it is not as big of a deal as everybody wants to make it. It is a big deal for me because I really miss being out there running around yelling and urging people on. It is more, as I said, of a big deal for me than it is for the football team or the coaching staff.

You are one of the few teams in the country that doesn’t have a kid from Florida on your team. Have you guys spent a lot of time recruiting out of Florida or is that just kind of a one year thing?

We have had kids from Florida. We have had good kids from Florida such as Dave Daniels and Michael Timpson. We have had some really good kids out of Florida. If we have a natural relationship where either the coach knows us or he had been a Pennsylvania high school coach or the kid has a Pennsylvania background or something like that. A couple of years ago (Jason) Henderson, who was a big kid from down in Florida, played offensive tackle for us. His family had Philadelphia ties. I don’t like to go down in there and just scramble all over the state trying to find somebody who may have some interest in you because there are an awful lot of good schools who go down there and chase them. I have said many times that if you take a 500-mile radius of State College, there is probably 50 million people who live in that radius and there are probably 400 or 500 outstanding prospects within that area and first we should try to recruit those guys and then go from there, unless there is a natural relationship with somebody from Florida, North Carolina or South Carolina where we have had kids from. To just go in there and blanket the state of Florida in order to get kids out of Florida when we have good kids in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Northern Virginia, it doesn’t seem to make much sense to me.

Typically, a lot of coaches do that. I know Rutgers, UConn and all of those schools up there have established that Florida pipeline. Is that just something you choose not to do?

Well, I think I explained why. I think Rutgers, remember (Greg) Schiano was in Miami for some years and has made friends with some coaches down there. I think they made a concentrated effort to try to get some of those kids down there that, in some cases, weren’t great students, but really wanted to do well and Rutgers felt they could do a good job with them. I know they had billboards down in Florida and made a real effort and spent a lot of money in Florida to recruit them. I think it has paid off for Rutgers. Whether we need to do that or not, I am reluctant to say, yes. I really don’t think we have to do it.

You have an outstanding linebacker that has been nominated through the years and he has won some of them. Would you talk about what makes Paul Posluszny so special?

He is a heck of a football player. He is a really good athlete, loves to play football and works at it. He studies the game. He hasn’t been quite as spectacular this year, but he is a better football player this year than he was a year ago. A year ago we played him outside and this year we moved him inside, which is not an easy adjustment. He has moved inside and has gotten better every game. He is just a smart, tough, good football player who is a good athlete and has a great sense for the game. He knows how to play it and he is a delight to have on your team.

Why did you make the move from outside to inside with Paul Posluszny?

I thought we needed him more inside. We had a young kid by the name of Sean Lee, and we took one of the (Tim) Shaw kids and moved him outside as a defensive end/outside linebacker, so it seemed to me it would make more sense for us to keep Paul around the football.

Could you share some memories of Leroy Thompson, a kid out of Knoxville, from about 20 years ago?

Leroy recruited us, really. We got a telephone call from Leroy’s high school coach saying, “I have a youngster here who is a great football player and he is interested in looking at Penn State.” One of the coaches who took the call came to me. I said, “There must be something fishy there.” I looked it up and he was First Team USA (Today) All-American. I said, “Get him on the phone.” I bugged him about why he would want to think about Penn State. He said, “I don’t want to go to school here in Knoxville, there is just too much pressure on me to go to the University of Tennessee and I would like to take a look.” He came up, liked the place and decided he wanted to come and he is a great kid. In fact, he is doing great work down there in Tennessee with young people. He is just doing a great job and is a wonderful guy.

As I remember, when you came on your visit to see him down here, didn’t you get into a card game with the family?

I got in a card game and wanted to play “hearts” and they said, “No, we play spades down here.” I said, “What do you mean spades?” “You white folks play hearts, we black folks play spades.” That was his mom, honest to God. Mom played the piano and Leroy sang. We had a great time. It was just a great family. When they came up here to visit, the mom and daughter came over to my house and we had a lot of fun playing cards.

Why do you not care about the race with Bobby Bowden for career wins?

What does it prove? I feel comfortable with whatever success I have had. I don’t have to be the guy that wins the most games. Now if it was somebody that wasn’t in the quality of the person that Bobby Bowden is or as good of a football coach as he is or a guy that stands for so many things that I hope I stand for…loyalty to an institution over a period of time, having an impact on Florida State. I don’t even think about it. I couldn’t even tell you how many wins Bobby has or how many I have. I know you are going to say, “Hey, he is a big phony.” Honest to goodness, I don’t and I don’t care. I just hope the good Lord keeps me healthy enough that I get a couple of good more years under my belt and then I can get out of it and go to work with my grandkids.

What has kept you going?

I wish I could answer that question. I thoroughly enjoy what I am doing. I am excited about coming down to Tampa and playing against a really good Tennessee team. I am excited about seeing about whether we can take this bunch of kids we have and go down there and play a heck of a football game and being involved in it. I can’t explain. Why do people write forever? Why do people do whatever they like to do and not want to back away from it? I don’t play golf, I don’t fish and I am not a guy for hobbies. To me, college football and being around kids and trying to make them as good as they can be and having a good competitive football team with the kind of support that we get at this place with 108,000 people at a football game, it is an ego trip I am sure. I am sure it is part ego, but it is fun and I am enjoying it.

Does Tennessee remind you of any Big Ten teams?

They are not very far away from Michigan and Ohio State. Their offense is more like Ohio State’s in the sense that their quarterback does so many things well. He doesn’t run like the kid from Ohio State does. Defensively, they remind me of both of those teams in the sense of the way they run to the football, the variety of the things they do on defense and the change of paces they give you. I haven’t looked at enough of Tennessee right now because, as I said earlier in our conference here, we thought we were going to play Auburn and I had spent some time looking at Auburn. I had been looking at Tennessee for the last three days and they are very, very impressive. They are well organized and they remind me very much of those two teams in our league.

Is 15 practices enough to get the offense back on track?

You view our offense a little differently than the way I view it. You say to get them back on track and do this and that. We need to execute a little better, hang onto the ball a little better, and don’t make mistakes in clutch situations. Ordinarily, most of the bowl games I have coached in were somewhere between 14 and 16 practices. I think that if you go beyond that, you get kids bored or you get them tired. You can only go over some things just so many times, and I think the 15 practices and the way we are breaking it down; hopefully, will give us a chance to play our best football game…offense, defense, kicking. I think 15 is fine, nine up here, take a week off for final exams, go down to Florida and get a good six days in. By that time, we should be ready to play.

How much has scouting changed from when you first started coaching?

We never had as many opportunities to view the team we were going to play because we used to exchange 16 millimeter film. To be frank with you, I don’t quite remember just how much we exchanged. For the first bowl game I was head football coach would have been against Florida State back in ‘67, I think it was. I know this, I worked them too hard. We had that game pretty much under control. The second half, we ran out of gas. I helped it by going 4th and 1 on our own 20-yard line. I didn’t help my football team that day. I am sure we didn’t have anywhere near as much information. I am sure we did not have a chance to evaluate personnel as well as we do now. Sometimes too much information hurts you. You start second-guessing yourself. The second time you go around and the first thing you know, you have practiced five or six times and somebody says, “I don’t know whether we should do this or that.” “Hey, we made our bed and that is what we are going to do.”

Does your health situation reinforce your desire to stick with coaching?

Honest to goodness, yesterday, 1 _ weeks ahead of schedule, I was allowed to put weight on my left leg. I got my walker, which was the first time I was able to do that. I have all of the flexibility that they said I wouldn’t have in two weeks and I have it. I am not looking forward to it being a problem. If it turns out to be a problem, obviously, I will have to re-evaluate my situation. I had planned before I got injured to coach at least a couple more years. I don’t think the injury has set me back that far. It remains to be seen, but right now I am planning on doing exactly what I had planned to do before I got injured.

Could you take us back to the play you were injured on?

I didn’t see the kid from Wisconsin. I saw the tight end (Andrew Quarless) come over there and I got away from him. I think I was talking to someone about trying to get something across to somebody behind me. Then I turned around and saw Quarless, but I didn’t see the kid behind him. I didn’t think I got hurt that much. I knew I got hit, but when I started to get up, I knew I had (taken) a good shot.

Have you received a lot of feedback from fans such as cards, letters, emails and what that has meant to you personally?

I don’t think overwhelming is a stretch of the point. The mail has come into our office and our home. The gifts that people bring such as food, candy, flowers and things like that. Sue has literally had to try to find people who could use some of the things that have been given to us. It has been a little overwhelming how many people have been pulling for us and concerned about us.

Have you been able to read a lot of the cards and letters?

We have them in a couple of bins and we put our little acknowledgement card, thanking everybody. Some of which, come from people I have known and they write letters and mass cards and thinks like that. I try to drop a little note on the envelope saying, “Thanks.”

Can you describe the experience of playing on New Year’s Day and what it means to you and your team?

New Year’s Day has always been traditionally the day that you want to play your bowl game. Now we have games on the 2nd, 3rd and the 8th. So it is a little different than it used to be, but it is still a New Year’s Day bowl. I think there is a little something about it. It is exciting for me and I think it is for the team; particularly, when you are playing somebody like a Tennessee. Tennessee has such a great football tradition and they are from a great conference. It is something that, if you are a football player or a football coach, that is what you are thriving to do. You are thriving to get into a bowl situation against a good football team at the right time. Obviously, there are games being played the 23rd, 24th, 25th, at night in different parts of the country. I suppose depending on what kind of year you have that it could be exciting because we have played in those games. They have been fun, but I think a New Year’s Day game has a little something about it.

In years going by, you have had quarterbacks who have been able to use the bowl game as a stepping stone into a much better, productive next season. Is this a good opportunity for Anthony, maybe, to make the next step?

Yes, sure it is a good opportunity. Every game he plays is a good opportunity for him. This is a good opportunity because we will have a little bit more time to concentrate on a couple of things as I have mentioned earlier, just making up his mind a little quicker on a couple of pass lanes and not scrambling around back there. They are about the only two things that he hasn’t done really well. I think we can get him over the hump there and he will be good. I have had quarterbacks, Chuck Burkhart took us 10-0 into the Orange Bowl in ‘69 against a great team Missouri and threw his second touchdown pass of the year as the quarterback. We were 11-0. He hadn’t thrown his first touchdown pass until the 10th game of the year and we were 11-0. We played pretty good defense, kicked the ball and took advantage of turnovers. We led the country in turnovers.

Playing 12 straight weeks this season, can you give us a sense of how big of an impact that may have had on your team physically and mentally?

I don’t think there is any question if we had a week off somewhere in the middle there, we would have been a better team at the end. I have no doubts about that. There are two things that happen when you play 12 games when you play in the kind of league we are in. You have to be careful that you don’t overwork them. It is just not a question of playing 12 weeks in a row. You have to be careful that your kids don’t get worn down. You can’t go out there on a Monday if you had them do a couple of things really well on Saturday and go out there and practice two hours on a Monday. You are going to be dead at the end of the year. You have to live with some mistakes and just try to consolidate the things you do and hopefully they will come along and still have something left at the end of the year. That is true of everybody that plays 12 straight games. I think the Big Ten is making a big mistake in not having an off-week. The Southeastern Conference has an off-week. I think just about every league in the country has an off-week. I know the Big East does. I think the Atlantic Coast does and the Southeastern Conference does. You have to remember, we go from the second game of Notre Dame to Ohio State to right at the end where we are playing Wisconsin down the road. Then we ended up with a good Minnesota team, better than people realized. I think they came on so strong with Michigan State and games like that. I would prefer we had an off-week. I think you can have a better football team at the end of the year. I think not having an off-week may have even hurt Michigan this year as far as people voting for Florida. I haven’t seen Michigan in three weeks.

Can you evaluate the year that Kevin Kelly has had and is he totally healthy now?

I don’t think his injury had any bearing on when he was a little bit inconsistent. I think he has done well. There is so much pressure on them these days. We are looking at 45-yard field goal kicks like it is a chip shot. In the old days, if you kicked one 30-yards, it was great. He hasn’t had the kind of year he is capable of having, but he certainly hasn’t hurt us.

Do you ever see the possibility of a playoff at this level?

I think it would really take a bunch of people. It would almost be like the Baker Commission, somebody spent about nine months, obviously, not nearly as serious. If a bunch of guys who really knew football and have had experience with college football and people from television, people from the press, former coaches and former athletic directors to just sit around and figure out a plan and then propose it. If I told you I am for a playoff, I am for a playoff. If you asked me how you would do it, I have haven’t got the slightest idea. I haven’t had time to figure out all of the ins and outs, but I think if we are unhappy with what we have, then there should be some kind of an effort to see if we can come up with a better plan. Who decides who is going to be on that group to come up with a plan, certainly not the head football coaches. We should certainly have representation, but I think that either has to come from athletic directors or college presidents. I don’t think the conference commissioners should have that much to say about it because they have a vested interest in the BCS right now.

Coming in you had asked people to stop taking photos of you. Have you seen this whole injury as, maybe, a sign of weakness? Why would you prefer people to not take photos of you?

I want us to be talking about my football team. I want us to be talking about where we are going, the place we are going to and the team we are going to play. The first thing, whenever I get out of the thing and there is everybody and that is very annoying to me to be very frank with you because I don’t think I should be the spotlight. I think the football team should be the spotlight.

Has John Shaw been able to return to practice?

Yes. He has practiced. He will have to beat out Chris Auletta. Auletta the last few games played well. I think that John is going to have to get back in the groove and there is going to be a little competition there in the next practice.

What are some of the things that have led to Penn State’s tradition and why has the interest level gotten to where it is now?

You guys could probably do a better job of answering that question than I can. I think it is the environment. The kids come here as students and we probably sell as many season tickets to students as any university in the country. They enjoy the games. Parents start coming and they tailgate. It is really quite an experience for everybody. Parents of the football players all look for each other, tailgate together and make friends. It just seems to me like it is “happening.” Sure the football game is important and sure if you do well there is a little added excitement about it and who you are playing adds to it. You go down to Tennessee and they have the bow Navy. They have those boats pulled up on the river. We have tailgating come from all over. People come here Wednesday or Thursday. It has been fun to watch it grow. When I came here, we had 28,000-29,000 seats in 1950. Now we have 108,000 seats. It has been fun.

You have had limited interaction with the team. How excited are you about reconnecting with the team and seeing those guys a lot more on a daily basis?

I haven’t had as much interaction with them as I would like, but I have been around. I talk to them at every practice that I go into and I have been to just about every practice. Maybe the first couple before the Temple game, obviously, I wasn’t there and then I started going to Michigan State practices. I would meet with them once a week. I met with them yesterday and met with them last week. While the coaches are on the road recruiting and I can’t get out of here, I spend a little time with them. I am not in the huddle. I go out there on a golf cart and I probably get in the way but they have to look to see where I am and slow them down if they are going to run a play or something like that. I can’t get in the huddle with them and chew somebody out, but I yell at them. I have a little fun yelling at them. I wouldn’t feel like it was a practice if I didn’t do a little yelling. As you can tell, my voice is a little hoarse now.


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