Penn State Football: Without Question, Joe Paterno Outmanuevers the Press (Again)
Joe Paterno didn’t take part in what was touted as a brief press conference with new head coaches Steve Adazzio of Temple and Todd Graham of Pitt on Friday at Lasch Building, the epicenter of Penn State’s football.
To many reporters, it was news that after a quick photo op Joe didn’t stay.
To me, it would have been news if Paterno had. As always, Joe knew what he was doing.
A master of the media, Paterno likes to tout that he used to be a pretty darn good chess player back in Brooklyn.
Once again on Friday he was king of the castle, not just with the press but with the in-state competition as well.
THE STORY ABOUT THE NON-STORY
A bit of a backdrop as to why we are talking about Paterno’s non-appearance appearance.
Five high school coaches representing the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association met with Paterno, Graham and Addazio on the second floor of Lasch for about an hour. They talked about a coaches convention, an East-West high school all-star game and other issues pertaining to the 25,000 boys who annually play high school football in Pennsylvania.
After that meeting, the group went downstairs to Penn State’s team meeting room (an auditorium, actually) for a group photo. After a few quick snaps, with Paterno standing innocuously at the far left, in a charcoal grey sport coat and a dangling tie, the group broke up.
The high school coaches went to an interview table to face some reporters and Paterno made like Snagglepuss – “Exit, stage right.”
“Listen to these guys,” Joe said, both thumbs up, on his way out. “They’re doing a good job.”
And with that he was gone.
The high school coaches answered questions for 15 minutes, then college coaches Graham and Adazzio – sans Paterno – went front and center after watching from the wings.
No Joe. No joke.
There were 20 or so media members in attendance – “round up the usual suspects,” is how Penn State alumni Julius and Philip Epstein put it in Casablanca. You know the writers' names; I’m tired of their faces. Just kidding.
That Joe didn’t return for the Q&A had some of the beat guys in a bit of a Twitter. To paraphrase another gem from Casablanca: “I'm shocked, shocked to find that Joe Paterno is not here!”
I’m not. The official story was that Joe had an appointment.
Maybe he did. But it is classic Paterno these days to ditch a small presser like this.
He had nothing to gain by sharing a 4 by 8 table and a few plastic chairs with Graham and Adazzio. His appearance with them would have lifted both Temple and Pitt, especially if a photo of the three shoulder to shoulder had made the Web and papers across the state and country.
The stringer for The Associated Press, hired to get a shot of the three, was pissed.
Really, what did he – or anybody – expect? Who can blame Joe? Thirty-three years from now I hope I’m not working one of these things. Talk about old. It’s bad enough that six of my former students were covering the darn thing on Monday.
For his part, Adazzio said he was happy when one of the coaches referred to Temple of the MAC, Pitt of the Big East and Penn State of the Big Ten as “The Big Three.”
“I sat in my chair over there and smiled when I heard that,” Adazzio said. “That’s a credit to Al Golden and the Temple administration.”
Not quite the real Big Three. Lasch certainly isn't Yalta, and only JoePa could hold his one-game moniker with FDR, Stalin and Churchill. Not exactly news, but of the three college coaches on Friday, Paterno was not even alive when the original Big Three saved the world.
For some more perspective, against the Not-So-Big Two in his 45 seasons as head coach, Paterno is 50-7-1.
NO PAIN, MAYBE A GAIN
So, honestly, he had much more to lose than gain if he sat there with Graham and Adazzio, his appearance if not countenance raising Pitt and Temple to Penn State’s level. One can argue that it would have been good manners for Joe to stick around, but I’ll leave that to Miss Manners – if she’s still scolding these days.
Among the many ironies were the two new coaches sitting there, surrounded by blue and white, in the inner sanctum of Nittany Lion football, and espousing the virtues of Pennsylvania football.
(Talk about ironies: Under different circumstances Tom Bradley could have been sitting in one of those chairs instead of Graham or Adazzio.)
Graham has a deep accent developed in Mesquite, Texas, and has never coached a game at Pitt. He’s spent the past decade or so at Rice and Tulsa. Adazzio still displayed a touch of a New Englander voice born in Farmington, Conn. He knows Pennsylvania football, though, having recruited the Keystone State for four years while an assistant at Syracuse and a bit for Florida.
Paterno’s recruited Pennsylvania the past 62 years. Yes, he hasn’t left Happy Valley to recruit the past few years, but he still works the kids and their moms and dads like no one else when they’re on campus and at the Paternos, grazing Sue's Italian buffet.
Joe's disciples are on the road even now, spreading the Word from the Book of Joe, his rod and staff comforting him. His assistants know the Pennsylvania high schools a tad more than the staffs of Graham and Adazzio combined. Times five.
And Paterno’s name carries a bit more panache than – and with -- his colleagues (albeit not his peers) at Pitt and Temple.
“I have tremendous respect for coach Paterno,” Graham said. “It’s an honor to spend an hour today with him. He’s always gracious. It’s a thrill to be around him. He’s made such an impact.”
NO QUESTION ABOUT IT
Here’s another part of Paterno’s brilliance:
Why subject himself to questioning from the decidedly ragtag group (and I include myself in that circle) of media members on a Friday the 13th almost four months before the opening kick off. Joe would rather step under a ladder as he shooed away a black cat while on one of his brisk walks (he’s doing those again) in College Heights.
You, me and Joe all knew what would have been coming.
It would have been damn the high school coaches, full-speed ahead.
There would have been questions about Rob Bolden’s status, Paterno’s expiring contract, Jim Tressell, a recent story about Joe’s lack of alumni club appearances, the ABC/ESPN prime-time slap, The Vest, Alabama, the offensive line, Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome, his health and – oh, yeah, Ohio State and the NCAA.
Like he wanted to do that.
So, instead, Joe’s No Show stood for No Comment.
And No Story.