Penn State players endure hard times in scandal's wake
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- It has been 36 days since Penn State fired Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno and replaced him on an interim basis with Tom Bradley.
It has been 17 days since acting athletic director Dave Joyner was appointed to lead a six-person search committee that will help choose just the 15th coach in 125 years, and the first since Paterno succeeded Rip Engle in 1966.
As you might expect, it has been a tumultuous time for the Nittany Lions football team, which will face Houston Jan. 2 in the TicketCity Bowl at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
"Chaotic, but interesting," is how Drew Astorino, a fifth-year senior strong safety and co-captain, described the period since Paterno was fired Nov. 9 in wake of the child sex abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
- Bowl: No. 24 Penn State (9-3) vs. No. 20 Houston (12-1), TicketCity Bowl, Dallas.
- When: Noon, Jan. 2.
- TV: ESPNU.
"It's been a tough time," said quarterback Paul Jones, a redshirt freshman from Sto-Rox High School who is academically ineligible this season.
The fallout from the Sandusky scandal -- he waived his preliminary hearing Tuesday in Bellefonte on 52 criminal counts of sexual abuse against 10 young boys from 1994-2009 -- bumped No. 24 Penn State (9-3) down to the TicketCity Bowl.
That angered many players, who expressed their frustrations about their bowl selection Dec. 4 on Twitter accounts. There was no formal bowl gathering for the team since Bradley was out of state recruiting, so they called a players-only meeting to air out their disappointment.
"It really wasn't about us voting not to go to the bowl," fifth-year senior tight end Andrew Szczerba said Wednesday. "There were some younger guys who were maybe thinking, 'I might not be here next year, so would it be better for me to go now or stay put?'
"For the most part, most of the guys wanted to go to the bowl."
When Bradley met with the team the next day, he was accompanied by Joyner.
"[Joyner] just wanted to know how we were feeling about the whole [bowl] situation," Szczerba said. "And he wanted us to know that Penn State has our backs and they appreciate everything we're doing for the university."
Bradley, a long-time Paterno assistant who has not yet interviewed for the Penn State coaching vacancy, did not respond Wednesday to an interview request from the Post-Gazette. He remains the first choice of many players, some of whom recently met with representatives of the football search committee.
Bradley and the rest of the assistant coaches will lead the team through the bowl game. Penn State president Rodney Erickson said he hopes to have a new coach in place by the bowl game.
Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno was given a courtesy interview two weeks ago. Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald remains a viable candidate, while several others, including Virginia's Mike London, Harvard's Tim Murphy and Duke's David Cutcliffe, have been mentioned as candidates.
Although Miami coach Al Golden, a former Nittany Lions tight end and assistant coach, signed a four-year extension a month ago, a source said his name remains in the mix at Penn State.
"I still think this job is an attractive one," said wide receiver Derek Moye, a fifth-year senior co-captain from Rochester High School.
"We got a great group of kids here, a lot of talented underclassmen."
"Hopefully, the new guy comes in and everybody's job's open after the season, and everybody starts fresh," Jones said.
Until a new coach is hired, Penn State will continue to lose recruits from its Class of 2012.
Illinois defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, a five-star recruit considered the top player in the class, decommitted from Penn State earlier this week and switched to Ohio State.
Colorado offensive lineman Joey O'Connor and Shaler High School tight end J.P. Holtz also have decommited since Paterno was dismissed.
That leaves the Lions with 13 verbal commitments for 2012, and a few of those also are exploring other options.
The players said they have had little or no contact with Paterno, who will turn 85 in six days.
He is undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer and recently was hospitalized after his pelvis was fractured for the second time since August.
"It still doesn't seem real around here with no Joe," Szczerba said. "I think everybody's just working hard and trying to finish out the season on a good note.
"[The underclassmen] will have time to decide later if they want to stay or not."
NOTES -- Final exams for fall semester end Friday. The team will practice Friday through Wednesday before the players head home for the holidays. They will fly from their hometowns Dec. 26 to Dallas. ... Penn State's bowl media day is expected to be held Monday or Tuesday.
First Published December 15, 2011 12:00 am