It was late Saturday afternoon when word spread – even through Texas Tech’s United Spirit Arena basketball arena – that Joe Paterno was nearing death.
After Iowa State put the finishing touches on the Red Raiders, the Cyclones’ Penn State transfer, Chris Babb, was told the sobering news that the former Nittany Lions football coach likely was in his final hours.
“That’s terrible,” Babb said, and he meant it.
Did you know him?
“He said hi to me once,” Babb recalled, “but it’s not like we had a relationship.”
It wasn’t as if Paterno was aloof – back in the day, he walked to work daily from his near-campus home.
He wasn’t aloof at Big Ten Conference summer media functions, either.
The way to cover those functions is to work the lobby – that’s where the news happens, not on the podium where coaches are in prime coachspeak.
But at that event, reporters always made sure they were in the big room when Paterno spoke.
They didn’t want to miss a thing.
Here’s a sampling of last July’s Q-A with reporters:
Q: Joe, could you compare the way your physical condition to a year ago at this time?
“I feel a lot better than I did a year ago,” Paterno said. “I had two tough years physically. The kid from Wisconsin running into me in the sideline, when I broke my knee that time. Then I threw my hip out showing off, trying to show the kids how to kick a football. I couldn’t kick when I was healthy. I sure as hell couldn’t kick with a broken knee.
“I feel good. I’m back to doing a lot of things I used to do, walking a lot more. I’ve been watching what I eat. I feel good. I enjoyed this spring, have a lot more enthusiasm.
“I’ve got an old saying that I had forgotten. They asked Marv Levy one time when he was coaching, he was a great coach, he said, How about your age?
“Marv said, I don’t think age is a factor. He said, I’m old enough to know my limitations and I’m young enough to know how to handle ’em.
“So, anyway, I feel good. That’s a long answer to a nice, simple question.”
Q: Can you comment on the changes the Big Ten Conference has made and the prospects of playing in the championship game?
“I think the conference, one thing I feel extremely good about is the fact that Nebraska is in it,” Paterno said. “I think most people know I was trying to get another Eastern team in the Big Ten. I was hoping we could either get Rutgers or Pitt or Syracuse because it would be more convenient for us as far as the media and things like that. When we got Nebraska, that was a real coup. It’s going to make the league tougher.
“The tougher the other guy is, the better you get, if you’re a competitor. I think bringing Nebraska in was a real big asset and I think the league’s great. And the fact that it gave us an opportunity to play for a conference championship game, I think it’s kind of exciting, it really is. It’s something we want to do. If we end up winning the division in a big game in Indianapolis, I think that’s great. It will be fun and something I look forward to.”
Q: Ohio State has been one of your big rivals for the last several years. I’m curious to get your thoughts on the turmoil they’ve experienced over the last few months.
“Ohio State to me has been a great, great, great college football program through the years,” Paterno said. “All of a sudden, now there’s something going on out there — I don’t know. I don’t know enough about it. I sure as heck don’t want to start being critical of situations when I’m not that familiar with them.
“I try not to even read anything about it. I try to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, period. If we do what we’re supposed to do, I worry more about answering the question about whether we’re going to have an opportunity to play for the conference championship. Those are the kinds of things I think about.”
Q: This is the last year of your contract. I wondered, how do you feel and what are your future plans?
“Well, I feel great. I really do,” Paterno said. “Is this the last year of my contract? I don’t even know I got a contract. I don’t pay attention to that.
“You know when I got the job — I was 16 years assistant coach at Penn State. Rip Engle came in and said to me, I think I’m going to retire and I think you have a good shot at the game. Rip had been my college coach when I played at Brown University. The athletic director was Ernie McCoy, who at one time had been the assistant athletic director for Michigan, had been the basketball coach at Michigan, and had been an assistant football coach at Michigan.
“In those days, the athletic department used to report to the dean of the college physical education before we had kinesiology. It’s not physical education anymore.
“He called me in the office and he said, Rip is retiring.
“I said, Yeah, he told me.
“He said, Do you want this job?
“I said, Yeah.
“He said, Okay, it’s yours.
“I said, That’s great.
“He said, $10,000 bucks a year. He said, I’m teasing, $20,000 you’re getting. I never signed a contract.
“Four, five years later when the Patriots were fooling around with me, they called me in and said, we better sign a contract. So a guy by the name of Patterson was vice president in charge of business. He said, we’re going to go out to Pittsburgh and get a contract.
“I said, why do I have to go? You guys write up the contract, bring it back, I’ll sign it.
“Having said that, this day and age, the one thing I am really uptight about, there’s too many people who are not involved in the day in, day out operations of a college athletic program that have too much to say. That’s trustees, the boosters, media.
“There’s a lot of people influencing decisions that are made because we have coaches getting fired. . . all those things that didn’t exist when I was coming up the ladder.
“It’s a whole different ball game. But that’s the way it went.”
Q: Comment on the number of scandals in college football.
“Geez, we’ve always had problems,” Paterno said. “You’re going to have problems when you have the type of competition that’s going on.
“I tell a story. The old days when I first started to coach, I lived four blocks off the campus. We don’t have a big house. We’ve been there for a long time, my wife and the kids. Well, the kids are all gone obviously. I used to get a telephone call from one of the campus cops would say, Hey, coach, you better come up here and get hold of Mike. Too much to drink, making a lot of noise.
“I’d go up at 2 in the morning, grab Mike, put him in bed, get him up at 5:00 in the morning, run his rear-end off for a week. You guys never heard about it.
“Every once in a while I hear one of these guys that I know a little bit about when they were 19 and 20, I’m talking about all the kids today, they ought to go back and read Socrates. Socrates, 400 years BC, said, The kids today are terrible, tyrants. They don’t pay attention. That’s 2500 years ago, okay?
Anyway, I’m shooting my mouth off too much. ”
Socrates – that’s what we’ll miss at the next Big Ten Conference media days.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football