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Penn State Football: What’s This Column About? I Don’t Know.

by on September 16, 2009 8:23 AM

UNIVERSITY PARK — Let’s get the “news” about Temple out of the way:

Yes, it would be better if Temple had played more than one game in 2009. That way, Penn State would have tape of something other than their five-turnover 27-24 last-second loss two weeks ago to Villanova. “Nothing we can do about it.”

Yes, Temple quarterback Vaughn Charlton may have thrown three picks against ’Nova, but he’s good. “How good? It’s hard for me to tell you that.”

Yes, two former Penn State players, Al Golden (head coach) – who also was a PSU assistant – and Mark D’Onofrio (defensive coordinator) coach at Temple. “So we’ll have a very emotional game Saturday.”

That’s all Joe Paterno had to say about Temple at his weakly – er, weekly – press conference at Beaver Stadium on Tuesday. (All sentences in italics are direct quotations of Joe's.)

To a fairly large degree, this was not Joe’s fault. The 25 or so writers and reporters there asked all of three questions about the mighty 0-1 Owls, who last beat Penn State in 1941 — back when Paterno was learning Latin at Brooklyn Prep.

If you ask some of those same folks, they’d tell you that when Joe speaks, sometimes it is all Greek to them. Or, maybe, pig Latin. “Ollie Ogbu, my Staten Island Ferry.”

It’s just that on Tuesday the questions about Josh Hull’s mustache — and Joe’s answers — were much more interesting than anything about Temple. “Has he got a mustache? … I guess I’ve seen it, but I haven’t noticed it.”

Joe gave a longer, funnier and more thoughtful response about the plight of newspapers than he did in analyzing the Owls. “I get the paper. I go to the bathroom. I take the paper in there and scan it. I look at it. The first thing I do is look at who died.”

On Tuesday, they were a lot of questions about the offensive line (six) because, well, there are so many questions about the offensive line. The running game, the bastard stepchild of the offensive line, came next (five questions).

In all there were 28 questions and follow-up answers — that includes one “no” and one “yes” that reporters gave when Joe fired a question back at them.

Often, Joe stonewalled. “After looking at the game tape against Syracuse,” a reported mused, “I wonder if you are going to make any changes on the offensive line.” “Well, we might. We’ll have to see.”

And stonewalled. “I don’t know.” “I’m reluctant to say.” “I don’t know. “I don’t know yet.” Those all were in response to a query about whether Navorro Bowman would play. (Hey, maybe Joe really doesn’t know on that one.)

A total of 10 times he answered, “I don’t know.” And once he brought in the whole team: “We don’t know.”

He invited the writers and reporters to come to their own conclusions. “You guys can speculate.”

In Joe’s defense, by my calculations he’s done a month’s worth of press conferences in his 44 years as head coach. Has to be someone’s idea of hell, either Joe’s or the people who cover him or both. What a great New Yorker cartoon. That’s 30 days times 24 hours. You do the math. I did. Thirty minutes the week of a game, 20 minutes afterwards. Preseason press conferences, bowl game press conferences. Big Ten press conferences, Lambert Trophy press conferences. Library donation press conferences. Spring practice press conferences, summer press tour press conferences.

Maybe that’s why on Tuesday, no matter what, Joe wasn’t going to give away any State secrets. “I can’t tell you exactly what I’ve prepared.” “I can’t answer that question.” “It’s hard to tell.” “It’s hard for me to answer that question in the sense of being specific.”

And in this answer he was straightforward about why he couldn’t straight up tell the truth about alternating cornerbacks A.J. Wallace and Knowledge Timmons. “Both these kids, one does something better than the other. I don’t want to get into that, help the other guy (Temple) who we’re going to play.”

I understand. Sometimes, it’s just too darn tough to come up with an answer. “How much? Tough to tell. It really is tough to tell.”

Some questions he would not dignify with an answer. “I mean, I don’t think that’s a question, really.” Two more questions and one disgusted response later: “I can’t answer those questions.”

He did concur quite easily with a writer’s assessment that Penn State’s kick-off coverage was a concern. “But, no, we’ve got to do a better job in that, no question about that.” The first “no” had to be out of sheer habit.

And then there was a very mannerly disagreement with an observation made by the dean of the Penn State beat writers, The (Altoona) Mirror’s Neil Rudel: “So, I don’t know whether that’s really accurate.”

There was one question he found just rank — about his team being rated fifth in the polls. “No, don’t get me into that. I don’t know what we are, for crying out loud. Geez, that’s the same thing – hey, I honest to God, are we No. 5? Is that what you’re telling me?”

It all sounded like a Coors Light commercial. “And that’s why at practice your practice plans have got to fit your squad and you’ve got to – that’s why assistant coaches are so important.”

Thirty-five minutes of that stuff and I was still confused. There just wasn’t really anything to write about. All I know is that when I got to my office after the press conference, the guy next door asked me how it went. There was only one thing I could say:

“I don’t know.”

Mike Poorman figures he’s covered a couple hundred Joe Paterno press conferences, the last half-dozen for

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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