Joe Paterno Press Conference – November 23

These are some of the highlights from Joe Paterno’s press conference today:

Q. Joe, do you plan to return as coach next season?
COACH PATERNO: Yeah, why you got something I don’t know? No, I am looking forward to it. I think we’ve struggled a little bit this year, with the youth and with the injuries and the whole bit.

We’re not where I would like us to be yet. But, I think with a good spring and a pre-season practice, we could be a pretty good football team next year, and I’d like to be part of it.

A couple of things before we get into this. One of the reasons I feel good about the football team is, Jeff just handed me something with, “Penn State Again Leads the Nation with Three First Team ESPN Academic All Americans,” which I think is great.

Part of the goals we set out for these kids when they come in is to do a good job academically, and it’s always good to have a couple of kids stand out as these three kids are, (Stefen) Wisniewski and (Pete) Massaro and (Chris) Colasanti, all of whom are good, solid people.

And the other thing is the cooperation we get from the university. We were concerned with the fact that the dormitories would be closed Friday of this week, which would obviously make it tough for some kids to come back and go to the game. And when we brought it up to the university, the university was cooperative, and they’re going to open up the dorms (Friday afternoon). So if the kids want to come back and want to stay in their dormitory and want to come to the game on Saturday, they can.

So, it’s been a good situation. And I don’t see any reason to leave it right now.

Q. Joe, two questions about your offensive line. How is Doug Klopacz and his ankle? And could you evaluate the play of John Urschel and Mike Farrell against Indiana?
COACH PATERNO: I think both Urschel and Farrell did really well. Considering you need a kid who hasn’t played more than five, six plays all year in games, I think both of them did very well. I’m not so sure about (Klopacz), whether he will make it or not. We’ll know if he can do some practicing tomorrow and we’ll be able to better judge it. I would doubt very much that he’s going to play, but he’s a tough kid, and he wants to play. The doctor said, “let’s see what he can do tomorrow. “

Q. Has Michael Mauti returned to practice yet, and do you expect him to play this weekend?
COACH PATERNO: Mike is going to be in what we call a green cross (at practice). I think most of you are familiar with that. You get a red cross, you can’t do anything. Green cross, you can do some things. And they have him in a green cross for today. I think after we watch him do some things today, we’ll have a better idea how much he can do on Saturday, if anything at all.

Q. Stefen Wisniewski is one of those Academic All Americans. On the field can you assess the way he played this season, and will he be at center if Doug can’t play?
COACH PATERNO: He’ll be a center as we did Saturday. When the other kid (Klopacz) got hurt, we moved (Stefen) in to center and moved Urschel over to guard. And then we had that little problem with kids being late, so we couldn’t play (DeOn’tae) Pannell. I mean, we could have played Pannell, but we thought it would be in the best interests of the team and some things if we didn’t.

So (Stefen) would go to center. And who would play at guard, I don’t know. We talked about that this morning. Urschel and Pannell will kind of compete for the guard spot that Wisniewski would leave. You’re always wishful thinking, maybe we’ll have Klopacz back, but we have to be realistic. So there are the plans we’re making if the regular center can’t come back.

Q. Another question about Stefen Wisniewski. This is his third time being named Academic All American. Can you talk about his contributions to the team on and off the field?
COACH PATERNO: He’s played a lot of football. He’s a good football player. He’s never quite I wouldn’t say never quite he’s never allowed what he wants to do academically interfere with practice. He never misses practice. He’s not late…on time.

His leadership qualities, although I think because he’s so tied up into what he’s doing academically, that at times he’s not been around the squad as much as he might like. And (Brett) Brackett’s kind of filled in, in that spot. But he’s been a tremendous kid to have.

And he’s the third Wisniewski we’ve had play for us. They’ve all been great kids, great students, outstanding football players. His dad (Leo) was a tremendous player. And his uncle (Steve) was an All-Pro for years and played pro ball for a long time. And both those two guys were great students. Probably in the same class as (Stefen) is academically.

Q. Could you talk about the importance of this team getting a chance to play another ranked team and the importance of beating a ranked team, finally, if you can?
COACH PATERNO: I think it is important. I think I’ve alluded to that. Just the fact when I was asked about the Thanksgiving Day arrangements, I think it’s important. It’s important to go out and be able to play a full game against the opponent, make things happen for ourselves and start to develop in different ways, maturity, handle adversity, anticipate certain things that may come up in a football game that you know are going to come up.

You never know sometimes when they’re going to come up, but you’ve got to be ready for them. I think all those things are things that we need to experience. Playing a ranked team such as Michigan State…plays a very aggressive game, very intelligent football team, very disciplined, very well coached.

At this time of the year, I think is, for a young team that’s had to battle a lot of different problems on the field with the injuries and the youth in key spots, I think this is a very important experience for them.

Q. Joe, how do you think this year ranks in terms of the quality of the Big Ten from top to bottom during your time in the Big Ten?
COACH PATERNO: I think this has been one of the better years. Your memory plays tricks on you. But there are a couple years there we had some really good football teams…didn’t get quite the recognition they should have gotten. I think the good teams in the league are getting recognition. Ohio State, and obviously, Wisconsin. We’re not playing Wisconsin this year, so I’m not quite as familiar with them as I am with Iowa and Ohio State and now Michigan State.

But I think the quality of the league has been excellent. I think we’ve got three or four teams that could play with anybody in the country.

Q. In what way do you think Mark Dantonio has changed the Michigan State program since he took over?
COACH PATERNO: I think I indicated that. They’re disciplined. He’s had to make some tough decisions, eliminated a couple of kids for a period of time from his team in order to establish the values that he believes are important. They’re an older team. They’ve got four or five fifth year kids on defense, and they’ve got three or four fifth year kids on offense, because of the fact that Mark decided at that time he’d take his lumps; he was going to build a program that went along with the things he believed in, as I said earlier.

So, I think he’s done an excellent job. And he’s really a good person. And, I’ve said this 20 times, if I said it once said it to this group and other people I think there’s so many good, young coaches in this league right now, and Mark would be one of them. They’re not kids, they’re not 28, 30, anything like that, but they’re young and maybe the kind of head coaching experience and the kind of competition that was just prevalent in the Big Ten this year. And Mark certainly is one of the guys that I’ve admired the way he’s handled it. I think the kid at Wisconsin (Bret Bielema) has done an excellent job as a new coach, second, third year, fourth year as a head coach. I think he’s done a good job.

Couple of the other guys the kid at Northwestern (Pat Fitzgerald) has done a really good job. And I’ll forget somebody, so I probably ought to quit at that.

But I think Mark is certainly one of the better coaches around.

Q. I don’t know if it would be accurate to say that Michigan State snuck up on anybody, but that was a team that was like predicted preseason in the middle of the pack of the Big Ten. And here they’re standing at 10 1, one of their best seasons in years. To what do you attribute the fact that they I don’t know if they played better than anticipated
COACH PATERNO: I don’t know how I can say it, how many different ways I can say it. They have a coach and a coaching staff that made up their minds that they were going to be willing to take their lumps early, even if it meant eliminating certain people who could help them on the field that particular year. They postponed those kids from participating until they became believers and now they’re reaping the benefit of those tough decisions that they had to make.

Number two, they have an outstanding quarterback. (Kirk) Cousins is overall probably as good a quarterback as we’re going to play. He’s smart, he’s accurate. He doesn’t give you easy passes. And they’ve got two or three receivers that are outstanding.

And that’s on the offensive side of the football. And defensively, they’ve become very, very aggressive. They know what they’re doing. And they don’t do stupid things and you’ve got to block them. You’ve got to block them every play. And sometimes that’s not the easiest thing in the world to do.

So I think it starts I think you’ve got to start with Mark. And I think he’s had a concept of what it will take. And he had enough guts to stick with it. And right now he’s reaping the benefits.

Q. You mentioned earlier you hope to be back and everything. Do you believe it’s –
COACH PATERNO: I didn’t say hope.

Q. Do you believe it’s entirely your decision? Would there be any thought from the university at all, or is it entirely your call?
COACH PATERNO: I don’t think it’s entirely my call. I’m not running the university. But I would hope that what I want to do would be taken into consideration and go from there.

Q. Joe, the kids don’t have class this week. Are you worried about all the downtime they may have?
COACH PATERNO: I am. I’m trying to figure out a better way to do the practice. We have some kids that are having some academic problems. We’ve set up a study hall for them, some of the younger kids, because they have study hall during the year and a couple of them fell behind, so that’s we’ve tried to work around that. So the off week (from classes) has helped us do that. But I am concerned with it. But there again, hopefully we’ve become mature enough that we can handle some of that.

I mean, these kids have got to understand what a tough game they have ahead of them. They’ve got to be they can’t be walking around all over the place. They’ve got to get their sleep. They’ve got to do some homework as far as recognizing what Michigan State can do, when they’re going to do it and how they’re going to do it. And that takes taking some videotapes home and looking at them and those kinds of things.

And so we’ve tried to work around it. Whether you’re successful or not, I don’t know. We won’t know until Saturday.

Q. Is this among some of the best group of running backs that you have faced this year, with Baker, Bell and also Caper, the three running backs that Michigan State has, and kind of preparing for them and that sort of stuff?
COACH PATERNO: I think it’s a combination of a lot of things with the running game. I mentioned I think they’ve got a very experienced quarterback. They’ve got some skilled people that are outstanding.

I couldn’t tell you where their squad’s from, geographically, I couldn’t tell you. And I don’t really care. When I look at a tape of a kid, I don’t say, “Well, hey, this kid is from here or there.” I say, “I like the way that kid makes that move.” Maybe he’s too aggressive, maybe we can fool him, things like that. But I don’t really I couldn’t answer that question intelligently.

Q. How do you think your senior class, especially your captains, (Brett) Brackett and (Ollie) Ogbu, how did they handle their leadership responsibilities this year?
COACH PATERNO: There weren’t a lot of them (seniors). We have about eight kids on defense that won’t be back, I mean eight complete offense/defense, that won’t be back, but the rest of the squad will be back.

As I’ve said, — again I’m repeating myself but in response to the makeup of this squad, we have 59 kids that are freshmen and sophomores. When we travel, we travel with about 40 of them. So the seniors have not been the dominant people.

A couple of them are good, solid kids but they’re not great players.

You’ve got Brackett. You’ve got Wisniewski and a couple of other kids. But so many of the good kids that do things in practice, sometimes don’t get them done in a game, are young kids.

So it’s been tough for the seniors to go out there and be the gung-ho kind of guys. We’re going to miss them all, because they’ve been solid kids. But there just hasn’t been enough of them for me to tell you that they’ve dominated the squad or they were the guys that led everybody.

Q. In response to earlier questions about your future, does that mean you’ve been in touch with Tennessee Williams?
COACH PATERNO: I’m never quite sure what kind of stuff I tell you guys. (Laughter) You’re talking about the author. Tennessee said he said: “Nobody’s immortal, but somehow I thought I was the exception.” Why don’t you get the darn thing straight. This isn’t one of your columns. We’re talking about being accurate. (Laughter)

Q. (Ollie) Ogbu, (Devon) Still and (DeOn’tae) Pannell, are they going to be available Saturday? Are they back in your good graces?
COACH PATERNO: They’re still a little bit on trial, when you say back in good graces. I think they I think they’ve got the word. I think the squad got the word. You have responsibilities not only to yourself, but you’ve got responsibility to the other group.

You’ve got 60, 70, 80 guys sitting around waiting while you decide to sashay over late. That’s inconsiderate; you’re not concerned about your teammates. I think we got the message across. And that’s all I care about. They’re good kids. They’ve been good football players, and we’ll go from there.


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