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Nitt Picks Is Comfortably Numb

After the Blue White game I was looking forward to getting home and listening to Joe's post game press conference. It was indeed entertaining, but it featured the usual questions from David Jones.

I admit it. Upon entering the Beaver Stadium press room before Sat urday's Blue-White scrimmage, attended by an estimated 73,000 people, I was not interested in who might be the second-team fullback or the gunner on punts.

An answer to the Clark-Devlin question is at least months away, likely evolving into an ongoing drama that stretches well into the season.

No, I wanted to ask two questions I believe many of those 73,000 would ask Joe Paterno if they could.

Nice to see David Jones now believes he speaks on behalf of all Penn State fans. But anyway...

First, won't the contract standoff between Paterno and Penn State president Dr. Graham Spanier necessarily make it tougher for the PSU assistants to recruit? I said I'd been fielding an awful lot of e-mails from readers who were afraid of that.

Here's how that went:

Joe: "That's ridiculous. You take a look at the wideouts. [Deon] Butler was a walk-on. [Jordan] Norwood only had one scholarship [offer]. The best skill position guy we got is [cornerback Drew] Astorino. He was going to go to Kent State if we hadn't offered him a scholarship. You guys all get caught up..."

I tried to knife in here and say I didn't put any stock in the "star system" of recruiting sites, if that's what he meant. The coach was already assuming I was bashing his just-signed crop, which I wasn't.

Others have. But I don't believe in the people who rank high schoolers, especially nationally. It's ludicrous when most of them never play anyone of their own talent. But there was no stopping him.

Joe: "I think we've had a heck of a year recruiting. That's your problem."

Me: "It's not your problem?"

Joe: "Naw, it's not my problem. Why is it my problem?"

Me: "The fans support this program."

Joe: "You're succumbing to the Web site mob. And that's what it is. Those people who write in and don't sign their names."
Me: "Well, a lot of players would want to know who the coach is in two years. Don't you agree with that?"

Joe: "Don't you think that they talk to me about that? I tell 'em this: Some of the guys who tell them I may not be here are washing streets and doing dishes and things like that, all right? I don't get into that.

"I tell them exactly what I think: 'I'm here. I hope I'm going to coach while you're here; I may not. God only knows what's going to happen with me.'

"'I'm excited about the team I got. I'm excited about our prospects of recruiting you. I'm excited about your being interested in Penn State.

"'And if I'm not here, the people you see around you, the facilities, the commitment to this program, the kind of attitude that Penn State has had about athletics...'

"We have a whole mess of kids up here today. We must have 50 high school juniors here. Take a look at this place and say, 'Hey, this must be one heck of a place.'

"And if I walked down the stairs, they may not even know me."

Me: "They won't know you?"

Joe: "They may not."

I'd love to meet the high school kid thinking of playing for Penn State that could not pick Joe Paterno out of a lineup. That's pretty comical.

Anyway, I see what Jones is trying to do, but frankly I'm getting a little tired of it. You can rephrase the question as many ways as you like, but you're not going to get Joe Paterno to tell you how long he intends to coach. And he's not going to tell you his wish for a succession plan and you're not going to get him to confess he thinks he's hurting the program. So why bother?

I feel the same way when I cruise the message boards and see people write 1000 word essays on why Joe is hurting recruiting and we'll never be a national title contender while he's here. Here's my advice to all of you. "Well duh!"

Do what I've done. Accept the fact that we'll likely be an eight or nine win team over the next few years. We're going to see a lot of talent choose to go play elsewhere. We're going to lose a few games with conservative gameplans. That's the way it's going to be. Maybe we'll get lucky and they can put a ten win season together and we'll manage to go to a BCS Bowl game. But for the most part mediocrity will be the norm until Joe is gone.

But we should enjoy the time while he's here. Think of it as an enjoyable ride down a country road instead of flying down the interstate at 80 mph. You're looking out the window at lakes and pastures full of horses instead of rocks and trees and filthy rest stops. Joe's days are numbered. Everyone knows he can't do this much longer, and when he's gone I think we're all going to miss him.

The day will come when we will be a power again. I read the quotes from all these kids we go after. They all come away from Penn State completely blown away by the atmosphere. They all rave about the facilities and the stadium. We're sitting on a gold mine here, people. They all list Penn State in their top two or three schools, but they just can't pull the trigger on us, and it's because of the uncertainty of the coaching staff. Keep in mind that when Joe leaves we'll probably lose Galen Hall and Dick Anderson too, so there will be an infusion of new coaches on the offensive side of the ball. Choose the right people and we can effectively put up a fence that extends from Lake Erie down the PA/OH border and down through Virginia to the Chesapeake and claim everything inside it as ours. Penn State will dominate the east coast in recruiting when we get a new coach. Write it down.

Joe's Next Career

I for one will miss Joe's press conferences. He's always good for a one liner or two. And you always get a perspective from a man frozen in time some thirty years ago. He's always pointing out how silly we are to focus on things we call news that he considers insignificant. One of the drawbacks to attending the Blue-White Game in person is not being able to hear Joe in the broadcast booth as is his annual tradition during the scrimmage. Here are a few samples from the broadcast.

"I'm going to shoot you, Beachum!" JoePa yelled, after freshman running back Brandon Beachum fumbled.
Paterno continued: "I tell you, I'm going to shoot the lineman that ran by the guy who made the tackle. ... Who made the tackle?"

Minutes later, Paterno laughed when sophomore defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu jumped offsides.

"Those kids from Staten Island (N.Y.) are so dumb," he said. "We used to go over there on a ferry when I was a kid -- from Brooklyn (N.Y.) -- but they were too dumb to find the ferry, so we had to build a bridge. The Verrazanooooo!"
After one failed play, Paterno said, "Who was the left guard in there?"

Jones: "Johnnie Troutman, I think."

Paterno: "Yeah, he was lousy."
He praised his players, too, and was predictably bullish on his program.

Jones undoubtedly got more than he bargained for when he asked Paterno to appraise sophomore defensive end Aaron Maybin.

"He's got body fat of about 3 1/2 percent, but I'm angry with him," Paterno said. "He doesn't eat well. He's gotten wrapped up in a fraternity, which I like, but they're keeping him up nights -- a little hazing, missed a meeting, missed a practice. ... Right now, he's in my dog house."

When you're 81 years old you get to say anything on your mind and you don't really care what people think. That's why Joe belongs in the booth.

I've got more to share, but I think that's long enough for now. Everyone get back to work and I'll put up more later this afternoon.