Paterno Meets the Media

Nittany Lion coach addresses OTL, the break-in and more in at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. Check it out in our coverage from the Hyatt Regency.

CHICAGO -- While the purpose of Big Ten Football Media Days is to look forward to the upcoming season, Penn State keeps being forced to look in the rearview mirror.

The program will be the focal point of an ESPN Outside The Lines segment scheduled for Sunday morning (9:30 a.m. Eastern).

A theme of the OTL piece, according to people who have been interviewed for the story, is the theory that Penn State head coach Joe Paterno and his staff changed their recruiting standards following a string of four losing seasons in five years to start this decade. Taking chances on more prospects with troubled backgrounds has led to more problems off the field, according to the line of thinking.

“We've had problems,” Paterno said when asked about the upcoming show. “You want me to tell you no? We tried to handle them the best way we can handle them.”

Outside The Lines interviewed Paterno, as well as team captains A.Q. Shipley and Anthony Scirrotto for the story. It also talked to several reporters, Scout.com recruiting analyst Bob Lichtenfels and at least one former player (Michael Haynes), as well as school president Graham Spanier.

“I hope they will not take advantage of the situation and sensationalize things for their benefit,” Penn State football spokesman Guido D'Elia said. “We'll just have to wait and see.”

The Penn State football team was involved in two highly publicized fights in 2007.

One occurred at a downtown apartment April 1 and resulted in felony charges being filed against six different players. Four of the players were cleared outright and two had charges reduced to misdemeanors.

The second occurred at the on-campus student union building Oct. 7 and resulted in felony charges being filed against three players. One was cleared and two had charges reduced to misdemeanors.

There have been several underage drinking violations in the past year, including a DUI by tight end Andrew Quarless. And earlier this year, Lion receiver Chris Bell was hit with multiple felony charges after threatening a teammate with a knife. He eventually pleaded guilty to a charge of making terroristic threats and has since left the program.

BREAKING IN

Thursday was eventful for the Penn State football program. Paterno and captains Shipley, Derrick Williams and Josh Gaines flew out to Chicago in the morning.

But the real action occurred much earlier in the day. A man broke into the Lasch Football Building in the early morning hours Thursday. He worked his way in through the weight room and caused damage there and in the nearby training room, smashing at least five windows.

“There was blood all over the place,” a source said.

The man -- PSU student Daniel Costenbader -- was apprehended by campus police and faces charges ranging from burglary to criminal trespass. He was arraigned and released on $50,000 bail.

In the meantime, work crews spent a good portion of Thursday morning repairing broken windows.

“It's a sizeable amount of damage,” Paterno said. “The kid who did it was a little out of whack. It's unfortunate.”

GETTING OLD

Two common themes throughout the off-season for Paterno have been his contract (which expires following the season) and Penn State's quarterback race between Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin (and Paul Cianciolo), to hear Paterno tell it.

He was hit with more of the same Thursday by the assembled throng of media at the Hyatt Regency. And Paterno again indicated that both lines of questioning are getting old.

On his status, he said. “I'm having a lot of fun and I don't want to get out of it. Yet I don't want to be too stupid that I go too far that I can't leave [the program] the way I want to leave it.”

When asked about Purdue coach Joe Tiller, who is calling it quits after this season, Paterno said, “I keep telling Joe he's crazy.”

As for the QBs, he said, “I'm gonna take my time. … We're going to give all three of them a shot and see how it goes.”

Preseason practice starts a week from Monday.

THEY'RE BACK

The 2008 Penn State football media guide is out. And several of the players who had been suspended from the program for spring practice are in it.

Defensive tackle Chris Baker, linebacker Navorro Bowman, tight end Andrew Quarless, defensive tackle Phil Taylor and cornerback Knowledge Timmons are all in the guide. None were in PSU's spring prospectus.

Paterno said he has set certain academic standards for all of the aforementioned players to meet before they will officially be allowed back on the team.

PLAYING FAVORITES

To the surprise of nobody, the media named two-time defending champion Ohio State to win the Big Ten title in 2008. But it was a bit surprising that Penn State was not predicted to finish among the top three.

While most preseason magazines project the Nittany Lions as a second- or third-place finisher in the league, the media panel that votes on the preseason awards chose Wisconsin to take second and Illinois to take third.

The teams that finished from fourth through 11th were not released.

The Buckeyes dominated the individual awards, as well.

Running back Chris “Beanie” Wells was named Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Teammate James Laurinaitis was named Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

BOWLED OVER

Conference coaches spent a lot of time Thursday answering questions about the Big Ten's poor bowl performances in recent years. The league went 3-5 in bowls following the 2007 season, including ugly losses by Ohio State in the national title game (to LSU) and Illinois in the Rose Bowl (to USC).

Illini coach Ron Zook said he had no problem with the criticism.

“I think that's why it's important that we go win,” he said. “I don't think there is a whole lot we can say until we go win. … There is no doubt in my mind the Big Ten Conference is a great conference. But until we go out and [win], there is not a lot we can say.”


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