Paterno Meets the Press

Nittany Lion coach tackles Bowman, Bowden, Big Ten expansion and more in Allentown area media event Wednesday.

FOGELSVILLE, Pa. -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno, making the last of three statewide appearances this offseason, told reporters Wednesday that barring any unforeseen academic difficulties, he expects linebacker Navorro Bowman to be available this fall.

A judge ruled in April that Bowman, sentenced to a year's probation and 100 hours of community service in May 2008 for his role in an on-campus brawl, had violated his probation when he admitted to his probation officer that he had smoked marijuana. Bowman, the team's leading tackler last season with 106, had another 12 months' probation added to his sentence, and Paterno held him out of the Blue-White Game late last month.

The coach said the day of that game that he had yet to discuss the matter with Bowman. But on Wednesday Paterno said, “Right now he doesn't have any problems, as long as he keeps up his academics.”

Paterno added that Bowman still has to complete his community service -- “and in all fairness to Navorro, there was some misunderstanding about who was going to supervise that part of it.” But as far as the team is concerned, he is in good standing.

“He had a heck of a good semester academically,” Paterno said. “That's one thing I told him: If you don't do well academically, then you've got two problems.”

As is often the case with such affairs, Paterno was asked to address several issues Wednesday, such as:

• His belief, expressed earlier this month in New York City, that the Big Ten would do well to add a 12th team, split into two divisions and stage a championship game.

He said the issue was well-received when it was discussed at the Big Ten meetings last week in Chicago, and that commissioner Jim Delany would look into it further.

“It was not a question of anybody had a definitive yes or a definitive no,” Paterno said. “It was, 'Hey, it's a good idea to look into.' ”

One of the key questions would be which school the conference might add. Paterno said he favors an Eastern team, “one that could give us the biggest TV exposure in the East; I think somebody in the New York market would be the one.” He mentioned Syracuse, Pitt and Rutgers specifically -- “not in that order,” he emphasized -- but said he would be opposed to again approaching Notre Dame about coming aboard.

“I think they've had their chance,” he said.

He quickly added that that was only his opinion, that others might hold a different view.

Paterno noted that the Nittany Lions had not played a game in six weeks before losing to Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl in January, while the Trojans had played two in the meantime. That, coupled with the fact that USC was playing in its home state (and, he reiterated, much closer to its training base than PSU was), was “a big, big disadvantage.”

Which should not, he said, be construed as a laundry list of excuses.

“We didn't play well and I didn't coach well,” he said.

But, he added, “I hate to be sitting home watching the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12, and there's no mention of the Big Ten. We're out of it for a couple weeks. ... We're sitting back there, and nobody's paying any attention to us. I think it affects your recruiting. I know it affects your playing.”

Overall, though, he believes the conference is as competitive as ever.

“Years ago, I used to look at some people when I looked at a lot of tape and I'd always say, 'That guy's sloppy,' or “This guy's sloppy' -- I'm talking about the way (a coach's) team played -- and you always figured there were maybe two or three guys you could beat, not necessarily because you have better talent, but your staff could do a better job -- that kind of thing. It's not that way anymore. It's a tough league right now. We've got some great coaches in this league. And there's going to be better balance. There's four or five quarterbacks that are tough.”

• His long-held view that there should be a national playoff.

“I think the fact that the President of the United States comes out in favor of a playoff, that can't hurt,” Paterno said. “I think there's some people -- trying to get inside their minds -- they're saying to themselves, 'Hey, maybe we ought to take a look at this thing.' ”

Paterno said he doesn't vote in the coaches' poll, that he hasn't done so since he tried to split his vote for No. 1 a few years ago, and was told he could not do that.

“People say to me, 'What would be your playoff plan?' ” he said. “And I've got to stop shooting my mouth off and I've got to come up with something concrete. And I don't have anything concrete. But I don't want to hear that baloney about missing classes. I think that's a lot of hooey. We've got soccer teams in Brazil -- I'm talking about our own team -- and we've got baseball teams in Florida, baseball teams here, missing classes. The NCAA (basketball tournament) goes on all the time. They miss classes all the time. Who are you kidding about classes? It's got something to do with this. It's all this.”

And here he rubbed his fingers together, as if holding dollar bills.

• His continuing concerns with the Lions' offensive line and secondary.

“I think we need two more big-time offensive linemen -- we're talking about maybe having a shot at the whole works -- and I think maybe two players in the secondary,” he said. “I think we have talent, but we're not there yet.”

And while it is generally agreed that PSU has a strong recruiting class coming in, he has, as always, adopted a wait-and-see stance regarding the newcomers.

“You know what I tell high school kids when they come in?” he said. “ 'Get ready to get knocked on your ass. This ain't high school. You come here, and you've got a lot to learn. If you think you're going to walk across the field and say I'm all-this, I'm all-that, it ain't going to work. You've got to get out there, you've got to take your bumps and your bruises and you've got to get after it.' Which ones are going to do it? How do I know? I've never been on the practice field with any one of those incoming kids. They've never heard me yell at them.”

He then mentioned that he once read a book in which the differences between chess and checkers were delineated.

“In checkers, every checker can do the same thing,” he said. “Chess, the king can do one thing, the pawn can do another thing, the whole bit. Football and coaching is (determining) who's the pawn? Who's the king? So you can put them all together. ... I don't have any reservations about playing a freshman. ... When I say to a kid, 'Hey, get ready to get knocked on your rear end,' I also tell him, 'Learn. Learn why you got knocked on your rear end, so when you come out to practice the next day, they're not going to knock you on your rear end the same way. And you've got a chance to knock him on his rear end.' There's no hard-and-fast rules. We've got a bunch of kids coming in, we're going to work our butts off to see how good they can be, and how much we can help them be good. We've got to put the combination together that gives us the best chess board.”

• His ongoing battle with Florida State coach Bobby Bowden for the all-time victories record.

Paterno will begin the 2009 season with 383 victories, Bowden with 382. But still pending is an NCAA ruling on sanctions resulting from an academic cheating scandal at Florida State, a scandal that resulted in Bowden using ineligible players during the 2006 and '07 seasons.

Bowden, who will be replaced as head coach by offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher no later than the 2011 season, could be forced to forfeit as many as 14 victories as a result. And the ruling could come by next Tuesday, the NCAA having announced recently it had given its Committee on Infractions until then to respond to Florida State's appeal.

Asked about the record Wednesday, Paterno said, “I'm glad the fans are interested in every little thing that happens, but I personally don't care. I'd be dishonest if I told you I ever give it two minutes' thought. I can't tell you how many games I've won. I can't tell you how many games Bobby's won. But I would not want somebody to put me down in the grave and say, 'Here's the guy who won more games than any other college coach because you took 12 games away or 14 games away (from Bowden).' That's not right. Bobby played with what he had, played good football and he won. He won the games. That thing is not something I'm happy to discuss. I really don't care about it.”

• PSU's NIT championship.

Paterno, who was on hand for the Lions' victories in the semifinals and championship game in Madison Square Garden, discussed all that with star forward Jamelle Cornley at a luncheon earlier Wednesday.

“I said, 'Hey, the best thing that may have happened to you was not getting in the NCAA (Tournament), because all of a sudden people saw you play. ... You may have done more good for the program because you were on all by yourself, and you won.' ”

Paterno, a Brooklyn native, again talked about seeing such stars as George Mikan and Bob Kurland in the old Garden, on 48th Street, and said the NIT run was “just fun for me.”

“I love basketball, and one of these days we're going to be one of the better basketball programs in the country,” he said. “But we've got to make sure we take care of (coach) Ed DeChellis and keep him around.”

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