Is the offensive play-calling system working well?
That is not a very fair criticism about getting the plays in on time. How many delay of games (penalties) have we had? When you look at football played around the country today with all of the substitution situations and the fact that people are putting nickel backs in and even penny backs and the whole bit, I think we have done a great job in the way we have handled our sideline operation. I don't think we have had a lot of problems. We had a problem Saturday against Minnesota because we had two kids get injured. When Gerald Smith hurt his hand, instead of just sitting down on the ground and waiting to get a time out, he comes out of the game and nobody knows he is out of the game. We were in a three-wideout situation and Kenny Carter is on the sideline, who is responsible for the wideout substitution, and he doesn't know who is out of the game. All of a sudden we take a timeout. Overall, we have done a heck of a job. I don't know what games you go to. It really doesn't make much sense. If you look at the way people have to substitute today because of situations and because of the fact that people are using three, four and five wideouts and our defensive guys have to hustle like demons to get different groupings in so that you have the most effective way of defending things. On the other hand, the offense, when you get into certain areas of the field or get into certain down and distance situations where the other guy is doing some things, you want to get your best personnel versus the other guy. We have done a heck of a job. I will take criticism about some things, but I won't take any criticism about that. I think our coaches have done a great job. You may not like the play that we called. That is, obviously, anybody's decision. That is the thing that makes football the fascinating game that it is as opposed to basketball; you don't have 25 seconds between plays. You have 25 seconds between plays to second-guess the coach. That is the fun of it. I've said, "Listen, I used to watch Green Bay play and Vince Lombardi was the greatest coach that I ever knew about and was the only guy that coached against me in high school when I was a high school player that beat us and I would sit there and second guess him." He was in there trying to decide what he was going to do and I was sitting there in a nice chair and second-guessing him. If you want to do that, that is fine, but your lead question is an unfair one.
Speaking of second-guessing, I would like to clarify something from Saturday. You said you would second-guess yourself over the fourth-and-three play late in the third quarter. Are we talking strictly about the decision to go for it or were you talking about the play selection?
The fact that we went for it. We debated and it would have been a 51 or 52-yard field goal. The kid had the wind to his back and, obviously, a field goal would have later on in that game put us in a position where we could have maybe gone into overtime. I would second-guess myself on that and that was my call. Should we go for it or shouldn't we go for it? I said, "No, let's not try the field goal." You guys get into all of the negative part of it. Minnesota played a heck of a football game. They had no turnovers and hung onto the football. The kid kicked a couple of field goals. They punted well. They tried the onside kick and did a great job with it. They played a heck of a football game. I don't like to lose, but I hate to get up here and moan about the fact that we could have done this or done that. You take away from what I felt was a great effort by Minnesota and a really good effort by us. We had 26 first downs. We averaged 5.4 yards when we had the football. We had only two punts and we averaged 51 yards on the punt. It was a good football game. It bothers me that I have to get up and say that we didn't guys in on time and that kind of stuff.
Why do you think the defense looked tired at the start of the game on Saturday?
I am disappointed in the tackling. I really am. There were four great drives in that game. We had two 80-yard drives when we had to make them. Then, of course, we got another one and didn't get any points out of it. Our tackling was not good. I really have struggled with the fact that we have not looked as quick early in the football game or that we get as tired as we do. I have talked to the kids about it and they are talking about classes. Obviously, the other squad goes to class. They are young and some of them have not learned to organize their day, maybe. We are not practicing that long. I keep cutting back on the practice time because I worry about whether we do too many things that are physical things that tire them out. I don't know. I am really concerned about that. I am concerned that we have not looked quite as quick as we should be. You have to realize that you are playing a lot of young kids. The two things that have concerned me the most about this football team because I really like it, enjoy working with them and think we are going to be a good football team. I think we are a good football team now. We have lost to good teams. Nebraska is not a bad team. Minnesota is a good team. Even Kent State, if you beat Central Florida, you are pretty good. Boston College is a solid football team. I think we are a good football team. Whether we are as effective as I would like to be, I think the tackling has not been as good as it has to be. We have looked tired at times and haven't played with as much bounce. There, I have to be self-critical as to how we are doing some things as far as whether we are tackling enough or practicing the right kinds of things in order to be more effective tackling or whether the other guy is good. I talked to Glen Mason after the game about the quarterback. I told him that I didn't realize he was that quick. He said, "When he is healthy, we are good. He has done that to everybody." Last year he wasn't that healthy most of the year. He made us miss. We had too many missed tackles. There is no question about that.
It appeared as if Zack Mills was injured on a borderline late hit and the same player from Minnesota had another border line hit on Michael Robinson later in the game. Have you voiced any concern with the hits to the Big Ten office or with Glen Mason?
They are bang, bang calls, but we are playing in a tough, aggressive football game and I don't think you can nit-pick about those. Until you mentioned it, I hadn't even thought about it.
How do you prevent the talk from the media who are second-guessing you from being a distraction to the players?
I am going to get Congress to pass a non-Internet rule for players (laughter). I don't even read it. You don't win confidence and have a football team based on what the Internet or anybody else says. That is a lot of horse manure. I don't read the paper and, obviously, I am not on the Internet. I am sure the kids see that stuff, but I don't really talk much about it.
What is Zack Mills' status? Will he be back to being number one again this week?
Zack is a day by day. He didn't do a thing yesterday and I would doubt he would do anything today or tomorrow. The medical people say that it is a mild knee sprain. It is probably not as serious as we thought it was during the game. I hate to get into the medical area because I do not know enough about it. I doubt if we will have him this week. That would be a long shot, but I think it will be close.
Was Charles Rush injured in Saturday's game vs. Minnesota?
Charles Rush did not play very well when he was in there.
How do you get the players feeling more confident heading into the Wisconsin game?
You get licked, you look at it and realize that this is what happened and that is what happened. Some of it is for this reason and some is for that reason. You just try to come together and say, "Look, let's get on with it." We have a good football game coming up. Wisconsin is a fine football team. Everybody we play is a good football team. We have to get some leadership and somebody has to start to make some plays. We don't go hide in a cave or something. We know what we have to get done. This team has some good players and I think we have some people who will come to the front as leaders and will say, "OK, enough is enough. We are 2-3 when we could have been a lot better than that and we are going to make some things happen." Beyond that, I don't know what else you can do.
Derek Wake hasn't seemed to be making any big plays yet. What do you think of his play?
Derek has been a big disappointment to me. I'll be very frank with you. I have told him that. I think Derek Wake is one of the best athletes, if not the best athlete, for his position we have on our team and he has to rise up. We have a lot of young kids who are just babies. A lot of them have played hurt. Some of them have lost practice time because of injuries. Derek has got to be a dominant football player for us to be a good defensive football team and he has not done it yet. I think your observation is correct. He has got to come to the front. I think some of the guys like Derek Wake have got to come to the front.
Do you think the team knows what they are up against and understand that they have to come out more fired up than they have over the first five games?
The hard part I have answering some of the questions that are presented to me is that it sounds like I am being critical. I think we have some young guys that have really come to the front. You asked me about Derek Wake and I can be critical of Derek Wake and I am critical. I have said that to his face and to the squad, but we played a pretty good football game. I just can't get across to you that we have lost games in the last two years, but we have been in every game. We just have not made some plays or we have had some bad luck. There isn't a game that we haven't been in. Sure, we started out 21 points behind on Boston College. It is hard for me to all of a sudden come in here and say that we have to do this and that as if we are not close to being where we are. I think some of you guys get critical because we have a chance to be a good football team and you are wondering what is going to happen. I am wondering what is going to happen too, but we have some kids that are playing hard football and are getting better every week. A couple of guys have got to make some plays. We have to be able to make some plays. In all fairness, they have not had a break. Every game we have lost since we were 0-4 there is a play here and a play there that could have made a difference in the football game and given them a chance to win the game. Some of it was lousy officiating. I don't want to get into that because there is nothing we can do about it. Some of it is our lack of ability to catch the ball when we have to or deliver the ball when we have to or do something else. It has come down to one play here or one play there. We have played hard and tough and have stayed in there and haven't quit. We have showed some character. I hate to lose, but I also do not want to give the opinion that we have a bunch of kids that are not working their butts off in practice and fighting like dogs in a game. Some things have just not worked out. One of these days, we are hopeful that they will work out.
Sean McHugh has been our most effective back. He might not be the darling of the media, but he has been an over 5-yard runner (5.2 yards per carry). Sean McHugh has really done an outstanding job for us. He plays every play. He has been playing 65, 70 or 75 plays a game, plus he is on the punt coverage team. I think he has done a great job for us. He is, obviously, not a breakaway back and sometimes when you throw screens to him and things like that you are not going to get a 50-yard run out of him. He has been very, very effective and really has been one of the better football players we have had.
You have conceded that the team really didn't start the way that you thought they would this year. You have players working hard at practice. Is it possible that you may be expecting too much out of this team?
What do you mean that I conceded that they haven't played the way I thought they were going to play? I said last week I would like to have been 3-1. I never once said unless I was daydreaming. I knew we were going to have our troubles early and have said from day one that we were a young team. I had hopes, obviously. I think that the Boston College game was a setback for us. I like to quote Browning, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp or what is a heaven for?" If you don't set high standards, you are not going to reach and stretch. I want us to strive to be a really good football team. I think we are close. We are playing good, tough football. To go to Nebraska with the whole environment and everything the way that it was, having to come off of where they were embarrassed up here in 2002 in their whole state and everybody else and to have a bunch of kids go out there and play as hard and as well as we played, I have troubles being critical of that. Granted we didn't win. We are not in this thing for moral victories. Minnesota played really well against us. Minnesota has won six in a row, including a bowl win over a really good Arkansas team, which proved itself the way they handled Texas. I am fine and I think that our team is fine. We just have to win a couple of games and it will take care of itself if nobody panics.
What was your view of the draw play on the last drive after looking at the tape?
I think the draw was a great call. That was a super call and I called it. It was a great call. You have to have a change of pace. It didn't work, but not every great call works. Against Michigan State a few years ago, we threw a little flanker screen to Bobby Engram, which would have been a lousy call and it won the game. The last play of the game. I know when I make bad calls. That at that time gave us a chance to do some other things in the pass game. We just missed on Matt Kranchick and just missed on Gerald Smith. You have to set up things. I thought it was a great call. If I had it to do tomorrow, I would do it again. In fact, I patted myself on the back for making it. What is the difference if it was open or not open? If I start telling you why it didn't work, I am going to have to start blaming somebody.
What has happened to the game of college football that there are no long-time coaches after you, Bobby Bowden and Lou Holtz leave…do you see any new young coaches coming up?
I really can't answer that. I will talk for myself, but I don't see Holtz and Bowden sliding out into the sunset. I think they are both doing a heck of a job. Bobby has a fine team and, I think, Holtz has taken a South Carolina team that a lot of people thought was down and out and has been very competitive. I don't know about that part of it, but as far as new, young coaches coming up I don't think we are ever going to have what we had with Bobby Bowden and Bear Bryant because of the media. The talk shows and all of the things that go into it like the lack of wanting anybody to really jump up there on top of the pack. I mean that. I think we have people come into the game who are 25 or 26 years of age in the newspaper business or television business or what have you, that feel they are smarter than the coaches. They have a tendency that the minute somebody slips a little bit they try to bring them down. I think it is a different environment. When I got into coaching, it was all different. When I say you're at fault, I don't mean you individually or the newspapers individually. I just mean the whole interest in the game. The money…I didn't make $50,000 until I was, maybe, 15 years a head coach. I turned down pro jobs that would have had a lot more money. I was comfortable in the environment and had a little bit more control of the environment. That doesn't mean that is right. I am not trying to say whether that was right or wrong, but that is the way it was. Now it is a little different story. When a guy like R.C. Slocum gets fired down at Texas A&M after everything he did and what a wonderful person and the graduation rate and all of the things that we think are great, a couple of guys didn't think he was winning enough games, so he goes. Every time you pick up a paper and somebody who was supposed to win the national championship isn't going to win it, his job is in danger. You can't expect coaches to have a loyalty to the institution of college football when everybody is judging them on standards and they are setting the standards. To be very frank with you, most of the time you guys do not know what you are talking about. I don't know how else to explain it. When somebody tells me that ‘so and so' said this and ‘so and so' said that, I say, "You wonder whether they are watching the same game or understand the game of football." Half of you haven't played. If I were in your shoes and I was a fan, I would write certain things. I don't mean it in the way that it may come out, but I do think that it is a tougher job. I think you are going to have a tough time convincing people that they should stay at a place for 25 or 30 years.
Can you describe the play-calling process you use in the games?
Why are you asking that? By tomorrow before practice we will have a script, what we will want to do on third and three to five, third and seven to 10, third and 11 plus. We will have right next to it what we call "coming out" inside our 10-yard line. What passes we want to throw, maybe two. What I like to call the "par" area….press, alumni and radio area…not that it is really very important. There you are trying to get a 15-yard play. You will have the same kind of scenario run down third and three to five or whatever you decide you want to do there. Then we get into what we call the "going in zone", which would be about the 35 or 40 depending on how good we think your defense is or how good our defense is or how good your offense is because maybe your offense is so good that we really have to do something special to get in there. Now we will go in there. It is the third down. It isn't like it is all of a sudden a guess. I know you guys look at as many tapes as we do and you know exactly what they are going to play in there. Then we get into the "red zone" and we have the same thing on what we want to do on the first down, second down and third and three and third and five. Then we have goal lines here. Every once in awhile we may get to a situation where they have changed some things. All I ever do on the sideline is tell Kenny Carter to tell Jay Paterno they are playing more two-deep than we thought they were going to play. If we had three plays for a certain situation, one might be for a three-deep scheme or one might be for a two-deep scheme so I want to alert him to make sure that we don't forget that. We get into the goal line and we run a play and I see one of our kids on the line of scrimmage get his ears knocked back and I may say, "Hey, Franny, we better play action it. We can't handle that guy." Most of it has been decided after looking at tapes for about 100 hours. Obviously, it doesn't always work out that way. You have people making changes on you. You have people making substitutions on you and you have to be ready to adapt. That is where the experience of the staff comes in because they have been through most of it. You have a guy like Dick Anderson who has been upstairs with Jay Paterno. Jay has been calling the pass game now for three, four or five years. Dick has been a head coach, a line coach, an offensive coordinator and the whole bit. You go through the same thing defensively. Tom Bradley has a sheet here and we are trying to figure out what they like to do on third and three and four to five. So when we put the game plan together offensively, we look at what we have done so that guy on the defense on the other side of the field can't look up and say, "This is what you are going to get." It sounds complicated doesn't it?
Can you evaluate Michael Robinson's performance?
I thought Robinson did well. He is going to have to start this week. I don't think Zack is going to get enough practice to be able to start. Not against a team as good as Wisconsin. Wisconsin is a heck of a football team.
Do you feel that you have been judged more in the latter part of your career and does that weigh on you?
I don't really know how I have been judged to be very honest with you. I haven't got time to worry about that I am trying to get to where we can win a game or two. If you start worrying about what people think of you, you don't coach. You can't do that. It is the same way with you writing. If you have strong convictions and feelings about something, you write them. You can't worry that there is going to be 60 people out there that are not going to like it and 28 are going to like it. You have to do what you think is right. I like to get after you guys because I think it is fun for me to get a chance to get after you. I really don't pay much attention to what you say. I don't mean that in a derogatory way. You are not writing for me, you are writing for a lot of other people. I know you are writing for a lot of other people so I don't even listen to you. The older I get and the younger you guys appear to be, the more condescending and critical I get of you.
Will Chris Ganter get more work this week?
Chris has to be the second quarterback. You asked me where Zack was? Zack did not do a thing yesterday. Whether he can do anything today or not, I don't know. I think we are going to have to figure that Mike and Chris are going to have to handle it.
What are your expectations for the program?
I think we have a good, young team. I think we have a good football team. I think we are a very competitive football team. I could get up here and moan about all of the reasons why we haven't won five or six more games. I know that. You guys forget that we went to a New Year's Day Bowl last year. We were a good football team last year. Where is the program going? Why don't you take a look at the way we played last year? We went to a New Year's Day Bowl and played a good Auburn team. We didn't play very well against Auburn and I have told you that. I don't think I did a particularly good job against Auburn because I didn't think I had realized how good they were. I think we are this close to being a good football team right now. I don't think the program has any problems. The problem is that a lot of the people are spoiled. They don't realize the league is tough. I have tried to tell you folks many times that the coaching right now in the Big Ten is as good as it is anywhere. People are finding out the MAC conference has become a very tough conference because they have some awfully good coaches as well as the fact that we have that parity with scholarships. I think the program is solid and sound. Whether we are dominant…no, we don't have a dominant team right now. Whether we can have a dominant team, I think we have some good, young players that eventually will be the kind of players that can make Penn State a dominant football team again. That is not going to happen this year.
Talk about Scott Paxson's development. Do you have to limit what he does because of his diabetes?
We have to watch him. Diabetes is something that unless you have had it or you have had family involved in it, you don't quite understand how it really can be a problem for you in physical activity. I don't think it has really affected how we are using him because we are not playing him that many plays. He and Tamba Hali are playing the same position. Scott is young. Scott was a tight end and all of a sudden he is in there with all of those guys and he is guessing a little bit. He is running around blocks a little bit. I think a lot of those kids are going to be really good one of these days. All of us want it to happen in a hurry, but it isn't going to happen in a hurry. It is going to take awhile to happen.