Paterno still recovering from injury
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Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Joe Paterno, who will begin his 42nd season this fall, reiterated yesterday that Pitt would have to play a rivalry series on Penn State's terms.
Last year around this time, Joe Paterno, the oldest coach in college football, scaled Mount Nittany in State College after being challenged by members of his family. Now the goal for the 80-year old coaching legend is simply to run out of the tunnel with his team in the Sept. 1 season opener at Beaver Stadium.
Excerpts from Joe Paterno's press conference Tuesday at the William Penn hotel:
And he is not betting that he will be able to accomplish the feat.
Paterno's life has changed drastically in the past 12 months. In early November, Paterno tore ligaments in his left knee and fractured a bone in his left leg after a sideline collision at the University of Wisconsin. He had surgery, a long rehabilitation and coached the rest of the season from the press box, including Penn State's victory against Tennessee in the Outback Bowl Jan. 1. Paterno, who will begin his 42nd season as Penn State's head coach in a few months, was in Pittsburgh last night for a Penn State alumni fund-raiser at the Omni William Penn. And while he does not foresee his injured leg stopping him from performing his coaching duties this season, he admits it has prevented him from living his life the way he had become accustomed.
Paterno used to walk 25 or 30 miles a week, many of them uphill in and around the Penn State campus. Now that 50-yard sprint from the tunnel to the sideline seems insurmountable.
"Right now, I wouldn't bet on it," Paterno said of leading his team onto the field for the season opener against Florida International. "It's been tough on me to get enough exercise as I'd like. I'm going down to the shore on Monday and I'll start trying to run down there, and we'll see what happens. I have an outside shot of making it."
There are a lot of things Paterno doesn't do anymore, football activities included. He used to run conditioning drills with his players and jump in drills at practice. He would walk to work from his nearby home. Now he works from his home some of the day, watching videotape and communicating with staff via telephone.
"Yeah, there are some things I don't do that I would have done," Paterno said. "Even at practice, I would horse around with the players once in a while. When they did conditioning after practice I would do it with them just to tease them. I really feel great. I can't gripe except I get tired. My leg gets tired. Until I do extensive running and walking, I think it will be like that."
Paterno insists, however, that the injury will not curtail his coaching duties.
"I'd be less than honest if I didn't tell you that when I'm on that sidelines I'm going to know where everyone is," he said. "I may get better glasses. I'm going to be careful. I have to be careful not to get too aggressive and be too macho out there. Every once in a while, when a kid got knocked out of bounds I'd pick them up. I'm not even going to be close to them. Other than that, I really don't have any [worries]."
Paterno's health was one of the subjects he touched on during a 25-minute news conference before his appearance at the fund-raiser. He also spoke about the fate of several of his players involved in an off-campus fracas in April and addressed the obligatory question of renewing the rivalry with Pitt.
Paterno answered that question the way he always has, bringing up his attempt at forming an all-sports eastern conference which was nullified when Pitt joined the Big East for basketball in 1982. That forced Penn State to join the Big Ten a few years later, and eventually, in 2000, the series ended. There have been no serious talks on renewing the series, and Paterno reiterated that Pitt would have to play the series on Penn State's terms.
"Financially, we have to have seven home games," Paterno said. "Now, if Pitt would say tomorrow that we'll play twice up at your place and once down here ... The last time we came to Pitt, they charged more money for our game than any other game.
"I'd love to play, but we have to think about some things in our place. We're going to play Virginia, Nebraska, Notre Dame. We have fans all over the country now, and they all want to see us in intersectional games. Saying that, I was with Dave Wannstedt, Marty Schottenheimer and Foge Fazio in Hershey last week. That was the topic sentence ... I love Pittsburgh, but we have economic things we have to consider. We're going to try to raise a billion dollars. We have to go to California to see people. We have to make a presence in a lot of different ways. I personally would like to have a home-and-home series with Pitt, but I don't think it's realistic right now."
On the topic of his players facing disciplinary action from the university for their role in the fight that sent one person to the hospital April 1, Paterno said he patiently is awaiting the school's decision about punishment.
Two players -- starting safety Anthony Scirrotto and backup defensive lineman Chris Baker -- face criminal charges in the case. Scirrotto, Baker and several others are expected to be expelled for the summer semester, but will be allowed to return to school in August and participate in preseason camp. Penn State's office of judicial affairs is expected to make the decision public soon.
"I hope they come out with [the decision] as soon as they feel comfortable that they can come out of it with a fair decision, and I think they will," he said. "I've been very appreciative of the way the university has gone about it. I don't think it's going to affect their eligibility, but I don't know. "
NOTES -- Penn State's games against Florida International and Buffalo, Sept. 1 and 15, will be played at noon at Beaver Stadium and be broadcast by the Big Ten network.
First Published June 19, 2007 11:34 pm