Yesterday was Part I of our discussion with Lou Prato where we learned about Lou's career and why Pitt claims so many national championships. Today is Part II of our discussion with the premier Penn State historian.
BSD: I'm shocked with how much recruiting has changed in just the past 20 years. It's so high-profile now with the internet websites and kids holding elaborate press conferences broadcast on ESPN. It almost seems like head coaches are judged by their recruiting class ranking just as tough as how many games they win on the field. Coaches text high school kids on their cell phone in the middle of math class. Fans stalk recruits on their Facebook page. Has recruiting always been this sleazy and we just didn't know about it? If it wasn't always like this, where do you think things started to go wrong?
Mike, there have been aspects of recruiting that have been sleazy long before you and I were born. Fans today forget all about the "tramp athlete" of the early 1900s. They went from school to school because of the lack of educational requirements and any governing body in collegiate sports. Believe me Penn State had a few. In fact, corruption in collegiate recruiting was one reason Penn State deemphasized all sports back in the 1930s. And maybe you've never heard Joe Paterno talk about his days as an assistant coach in the 1950s and early1960s and all the recruiting high-jinks that went on, like the time Pitt hid Mike Ditka in a hotel so Penn State couldn't find him.
Today is worse because of television, the internet, and all the other latest electronic wizardry like cell phones, I-phones, "blueberries" (as Joe sometimes calls them), twitter, Facebook, etc. What do you expect when television turns local high school kids into national sports celebrities? And now an entire business has evolved. And it sells soap, to use the old marketing saying. There have always been snake oil salesmen. So, am I surprised at the sleaze? No. But I don't pay attention to it like a lot of the folks monitoring Black Shoes Diary. There is too much B. S. in it all.
BSD: There's no doubt that joining the Big Ten has been good for Penn State University, but do you think it has been good for Penn State football? Do you miss the days when Penn State competed with its old east coast rivals as an independent?
I loved the old rivalries as an independent, and I don't just mean just Pitt, but Maryland, Syracuse and even West Virginia-where going to Morgantown to see a game was like invading another country. That was never a pleasant experience. But it is all different now and it is not going to go back to "the old days." In fact, buckle your seat, because I don't think these conference realignments are even close to being over.
As for the Big Ten, I spent nearly 15 years in Big Ten country and enjoyed it, even though it was the Big Two and Little Eight back then, and - I hate to write this now - I was a big Michigan fan. Our radio station in Detroit broadcast the games and I was the spotter for our play-by-play man. I was there to see a lot of the Bo-Woody shenanigans, and I learned to dislike Ohio State. I used to get kidded a lot by my Midwestern peers about "eastern football," and I loved it when Penn State would knock off a Big Ten team, especially Ohio State as the 1978 team did.
Yes, I do think the Big Ten has been good for Penn State football, despite our losing streak in the early 2000s, and certainly financially. Name an eastern school today that has the respect Penn State still has, despite our lack of success in the Big Ten in those "down" years. Sure, it takes longer to get to games in the Midwest, but I guarantee alumni who live out there love it. I know. I have met many of them. What really irritates me is all the fans complaining about not playing more eastern teams in our non-conference games, especially Pitt. Pitt had its chance to help form an all-sports eastern conference when Paterno tried to do it 30 years ago. They and the others can only blame themselves for Penn State going to the Big Ten when it was offered the chance. Yes, it would nice to have a true arch rival in the Big Ten but so what. Maybe we will someday, perhaps Nebraska, or maybe even Iowa if we keep losing those crucial games to the Hawkeyes.
BSD: How do you think the Nittany Lions are going to look this year?
If I really knew the answer, I'd be in Vegas living the life of a king. I'm as concerned as all the other fans about the QB situation, as well as the offensive line (as usual). But being successful depends on a lot of luck and the character of the players, their chemistry and the coaching, both off and on the field. Who knows? But skipping over all that stuff, this team could be at least 9-3 or 5-7. It depends on a lot of factors. That's why I try not to think about it but just go to the game. As Joe has often said, "Take care of the little things and the big things take care of themselves"
BSD: Where can people go to purchase your books?
Glad you asked. I still have about 25 or so copies of The Penn State Football Encyclopedia left. The publisher went out of business a couple of years ago and I bought up all the copies. People have asked me when I am going to bring out an update. I've discussed that with a couple of publishers but they weren't interested, and it would be very costly for me to do it on my own. But who knows.
What It Means to be a Nittany Lion is sold out and the publisher isn't planning a second printing.
The Penn State Football Vault is still going strong. The publisher just informed me they are going to be restocking the stores before the fall. I don't sell it but anyone can by the book from the usual sources-the Penn State Book Store, Amazon, etc.
Since Game Changers: The Greatest Plays in Penn State Football didn't come out until last October, I hope to sell more of those this year, either myself or through the official gopsu.com web site. We are discussing that prospect right now.
So, anyone is interested in a personalized autographed copy of either the Encyclopedia or Game Changers, they can contact me via E-mail at louprato (at) comcast (dot) net, or my telephone number 814-692-5577. But be advised, I don't take credit cards.
And thanks for asking me to participate in your Black Shoes Diaries chat.
WE ARE......PENN STATE!