Coach Joe Paterno Press Conference
What can you tell us about the status of Anwar Phillips returning to the team?
I really would prefer that we talk about the kids that are on the team right now and spring practice and all of those kinds of things. What happens will happen. I have very little control over that and I am just going to let it go right now.
Will the quarterback position be an open position this spring?
You say an open position. My reaction to that is that it is not open. I think that Zack Mills is the quarterback and it is now up to Michael Robinson and Chris Ganter to beat him out. When you go into spring practice, you have a guy that has done as well as Zack Mills has done for us in a lot of very tough games. Somebody has got to beat him out. That doesn't mean that Michael Robinson doesn't have the ability or will not have a chance to beat him out because we will try to come up with the best quarterback that we have. Going into this thing right now, somebody will have to beat out Zack.
How will you replace Larry Johnson?
To be frank with you, until I went back and looked over the tapes again, you don't realize just how many big plays he made on his own. Larry really had one heck of a year. We are not going to replace a Larry Johnson. You can't replace every year a kid that has been as productive as he has been. I think we have some young backs that we recruited a year ago with the idea that we were going to lose Larry. Mike Gasparato and Pete Gilmore have a chance. There are young kids who are freshmen, some of whom have redshirted. We played some a little bit. Spring practice is very important as to how we come out of this and what level of talent we have at tailback. We are certainly going to work hard to try to get somebody that can give us some of the things that Larry could give us. I don't think we are going to get anybody that good yet.
Have you talked to Paul Jefferson? What is his status on the team right now?
Both Paul and Sean McHugh, I think, give us two fullbacks. Right now, they will go into spring practice with the idea that one of them is going to be the number one fullback and then we will see what happens from there. They are two good football players and are a luxury to have. Paul, when he is in shape, should be about 250-255 pounds. He is a little heavier right now. Sean is a 260 pounder. They are both good athletes. Again, going back to the previous question as to the tailback situation, how we evaluate the tailback thing, there may be a different scenario we may have as far as Paul and Sean and getting them both in the game at the same time.
Is Zack Mills healthy for the spring practice?
Zack has been to all of the winter workouts. I have been to most of them and he has worked at it hard. They were a little bit concerned. You'd have to talk to the medical people about that. Unless they tell me the guy can't do something, I am figuring he is 100 percent. They haven't said one word to me about Zack in two months.
Can you assess some of the people you hope to step forward on the defensive line to replace Michael Haynes, Jimmy Kennedy and Anthony Adams?
The two things we have to do is come up with an offensive line. We really have some people on the offensive line who certainly have the ability who have yet to show me that they have the kind of intensity it is going to take to do all of the kinds of things that a good offensive lineman has to do. Some of those people have had some experience and have been in the program a couple of years. On the defensive line side of the football, we have some really talented young kids that have never played who might be a little bit undersized. I think we got spoiled with Jimmy Kennedy and Anthony Adams in there inside. John Bronson is back. Kids like Jeremiah Davis has played and Matthew Rice has played some. Tamba Hali played as a true freshman as a nose guard. We did a good job recruiting for the fact that we were going to lose three really good players inside there. We will probably move Sam Ruhe back to defensive end. That depends on how the linebackers perform. Right now we are hopeful that we will be able to do that. That will be another guy who has played some football that we can put up front. I think we are going to be all right there. We might be a little bit undersized. We will see. I feel better about that than I do, I think, about the fact that we really have to do a job with that offensive line.
Will there be anybody who won't be practicing in the spring due to academic reasons?
I have a meeting with Don Ferrell and Todd Kulka, our two academic advisors for the football team. They are coming in tomorrow and we are talking about a couple of kids. I am a little bit concerned about a couple of them. I am not sure that I would want to get into that. I am not sure whether we will practice them twice a week or whether we will not practice them or whether we will just tell them, "Hey, you get those studies up." There will probably be one or two kids that we might say, "Hey look, you just concentrate on your studies and forget about football this spring."
What are you looking for from the younger kids this spring and how will what they do in the next few weeks impact on what happens in the fall?
There again, that is a very tough question for me to speculate on as to what is going to happen in the fall. You come out of spring practice with the idea that you have some kids that have made some improvement and when you start pre-season football they will be even better at that stage than they were at the end of spring practice. We have to get a tailback, obviously. I think the quarterback situation is good. I think Tony Johnson has to come to the front and be just a little bit more consistent as a wideout so that he kind of fills the spot where we used Bryant Johnson so much in the clutch. I think that we have some other young kids that have a chance to be good. In the wideout spot, defensively, I think our secondary and linebackers are kids that have all played some. We should come out of spring practice with those kids ready to go. I think the defensive line will, as I said, will have a problem with inexperience and size. That is where we are. We have to get a punter. David Royer is gone and we think we have a good, promising young kid by the name of Jeremy Kapinos as a punter. We have Robbie Gould and David Kimball back at placekicking. There are a lot of things that we have on the plus side, but there are two big voids. The one to me right now would be whether we can get some offensive linemen to step up to the front and play as well as they are capable of playing. If they do that, they will be good. We need to try to get the defensive line as much experience in a hurry as we can.
Was there any evidence during winter conditioning that the loss to Auburn was any more difficult to overcome than any other game?
Auburn is a good football team. Auburn played very, very well. They did a lot of things well. It wasn't as if we didn't have a real strong effort. We didn't throw or catch the ball as well as you have to when you play a team that played as well as Auburn did. That is going to happen to you. I thought we had a really enthusiastic winter program. I am kind of upbeat about the whole situation. I am excited about starting on Saturday. I wish we could get rid of this rain so that we could get outside and work outside, but we will work inside. We are fortunate that we have those kind of facilities. I don't sense anything except that we came so close last year. We had four football games that any one of which, with one play here or there, we could have won or maybe some other factors were involved in the overtime losses. Let's go from that to, maybe, turning those into wins.
Are you surprised the PSU men's basketball program has not had the consistency of your football program?
That is a question you should ask Tim Curley. I am very fond of Jerry Dunn. I think he is a great guy and he ran the program the way you would like it run. The kids went to school and were good kids who graduated. They played hard and Jerry ran it the way you would want to run it. A break here, a break there, a win here, some momentum there and so forth and, maybe, it is a different story. I am sorry to see Jerry go. People have short memories and I am not defending any action that anyone has taken, but as far as the success of our program and how far we are away, two years ago we were in the Final 16. That was just two years ago. It is the same way we were when we lost the first four games a couple of years ago and it was the end of the world. I think Tim, obviously, had a tough decision to make, but he made it. Now he is in the process of trying to get us a guy that can come in here and do the things that we want we done and maybe have a little bit more luck.
Is the door still open for Anwar Phillips to return to the team?
I don't know what to tell you. You know as much about what is going to happen as I do. I'll make that decision when I have to. I am not going to make any kind of decision right now. If you want to talk about our football team, that is fine. Nobody ever asks about Casey Williams or what kind of year he had. If you want to talk about some other people, that is fine.
Are you concerned about the image of the program?
No. Why don't you guys talk about our graduation rate? Nobody here has said, "Are you pleased that out of all of the teams that were in a bowl, that Penn State had the highest graduation rate?" Nobody asked, "Are you pleased with the fact that the African American football players have graduated over 80% consistently over the last five years?" This year our graduation rate, when the new figures come out, will be 85.7%. African American kids on our football team will have graduated at the rate of about 87%. If you want to talk about that, I will be happy to talk about that. I don't know what the image of the program is. I think the image of the program is that we bring kids in here and we give them an opportunity to get a good education and to play on a good, competitive football team. If down the line out of about 120-125 kids once in awhile something happens that none of us are glad about, it happens. If I could change that, I would change it. I am not going to be able to change it. If you said to me, "Would you be embarrassed that one of our Big Ten colleagues had 39% of their football players graduate?" I would say, "Yes, I am embarrassed about that."
Does your team return with higher expectations this season because of the success of last year?
I hope so. Close is good in horseshoes they say. Isn't that what somebody said one time? That is the only place it counts. I am not happy about losing four football games. I would be dishonest if I told you otherwise. I always say that I have never been a guy that hasn't always felt that, maybe, there is something that I could have done that would have changed that around a little bit. I hope we are coming in here with the idea that we can do better than that. Whether we can do better than that with the kind of people we have to play against, that is debatable, but we are going to sure give it a shot.
Are there any changes in the conditioning program?
No, not really. Maybe a little something here or a little something there. I was really pleased, not having seen them work out, but some of our kids who spent a lot of time with Jeremy Scott and John Thomas, the kids who are going into pro football, had great workouts up here when the pros came up to work them out. A lot of the kids contributed that to the fact that J.T. and Jeremy did such a good job with them. I have kind of left that in their hands. I think they are good and do a good job.
Is Scott Paxson working on the defensive line?
Jeff Nelson asked me before the press conference if there were any roster changes and I told him, "I don't know." I really don't know. I think there are about seven kids that I would like to, if I could arrange it and organize it in a way that it is not going to slow us down in the areas that I think we have to make progress, take a look at both sides of the football or at two different positions. A kid like Andrew Guman, I may want to take a look at him at an outside linebacker and Scott Paxson both as an offensive and a defensive football player. There are about four or five others.
Will Alan Zemaitis be able to practice?
I don't think he is going to be able to. He has worked in the winter program the last couple of weeks and he looks like he is all right, but they are going to be very careful with him.
Are you worried about the depth in the secondary?
I am always worried about depth, but that is a luxury that very few people have, particularly in the corner spot and places like that. Look at Ohio State, who had to take a great wideout and put him over on defense where he played as many as 100-110 plays a game. I think we are going to be all right there. I really do. We have Alan Zemaitis and Rich Gardner. There is a youngster by the name of Maurice Humphrey who is a really good athlete. Gio Vendemia, the kid from up in northwest Pennsylvania, has had a good situation. Calvin Lowry, who got hurt, Chris Harrell and Yisrael Yaacov are back. I think we have pretty good depth back there, really.
Are there any freshmen that didn't get to play last year that look like they are ready to be big contributors?
I can only tell you because of what I have seen on foreign teams running off of cards. I think it was a pretty good freshmen group, I really do. I think of a kid like Donnie Johnson when you talk about the tailback spot. There is a kid by the name of BranDon Snow who has a chance to be a player some place. He might be a kid that we look at on both sides of the football. We will look at him as a fullback and maybe as a linebacker or something like that. I think that on defense there is a kid by the name of Jay Alford who looks like he is a good prospect. Levi Brown will probably play some place. Whether he plays defensive tackle or offensive tackle, I'm not sure. He wants to play defense and I am not sure that is the best spot for him. There is a kid by the name of Steve Roach who is a defensive lineman or offensive lineman. Josh Hannum has a chance to be a good wideout for us. There are probably 10 kids, all of which have impressed the staff. As I put on the tapes of practices, that is the only thing I have seen of them. I have been impressed with their ability to do certain things athletically. Whether when you give them the whole thing and they have to get into the huddle and there is no card up there telling you where to run and where to throw the football, you are in a little different ball game.
The seniors last year were praised for bringing the program back. Do you see that type of leadership continuing this year?
You never know. You try to impress upon them how important it is and if they want to have some success, they are going to have to show some of the younger kids the way it has to be done. I am optimistic about that. I am not sure about it, but we will find out.
What does Tony Johnson have to do to take that next step to be a player that can take over a game?
Tony's personality is one that he is a fun kid. When you get to a certain stage, you have to make up your mind of, what is commitment? He has certainly not been a guy that has not made a commitment, but he has made a commitment to be a good, solid wideout and a good, solid football player and whatever we have asked him to do. Now he has to be a guy who wants to be 'the dominant' guy. That is going to take a little bit more consistency in some of the things he does. He has a tendency to look like a great football player and then he gets a little bit careless. He can't afford to get careless. He has to be a leader. He has to be one of the guys that is going to do that and I think he will. He comes from a great family and I think he has it all. He has a chance to be really good.
How far along is Yaacov Yisrael?
He is doing a lot of the running and things like that. Whether they let him get into a situation where he is going to get into a block that he doesn't see coming and that kind of thing, that is up to the trainers and the doctors. I am not in a hurry to stick him in there. He has played enough football. If we practice him three times in pads all spring, that would probably be more than I would like. That may only be so we don't start in preseason where he is a little bit timid about how strong the knee is or something like that as a psychological arrangement.
What is Alan Zemaitis' injury?
He had a laceration to his head.
You had talked about retiring in 2006. Is that still your intention?
You go into a high school and you don't realize there is a television on you. I was clowning around with somebody and I said, "I am going to go until 2006." What I had done is that I had sat down with some people that helped me with my finances. I sat down with some people involved with my State Retirement Plan and put it together and I said, "What does it look like if I go another four years?" Only because I wanted to get some idea of where I stand because I am the world's worst businessman and I couldn't even tell you how much money I make. I don't know, if I would retire tomorrow, what I would have or wouldn't have. I am sure it would be enough. They put some figures together for me. So now I am saying, "OK, 2006. I at least want to coach four years." I hope I can go longer than that, but we will see what happens. Tennessee Williams said one time, "I knew nobody was immortal, but I thought maybe I was the exception." So I don't want to be foolish about it. I had him do it for 2006 to 2011. If I can hang in here until 2011, I may have a Cadillac like Rene Portland has.
Rene Portland is going up against one of the top basketball coaches in her next match-up. You have coached against some of the greatest coaches. How much does the coaching affect the game?
Rene is back there, I just want to tell her "great going. I just haven't gotten to see you play as much as I would have liked to." Back to the question, I think it is overrated, except in our case with Rene, we got the best one. She can out-coach all of them so I am not worried about that part of it. A lot of things happen in a ball game. When Rene comes up, you can ask her that. I have never coached against a coach in my life. When Lou Holtz took the Notre Dame job and we were going to play them, I had felt that Lou Holtz had done the best job coaching against me by anybody when he beat us twice when he was at North Carolina State. I subscribed to the Notre Dame school paper and the South Bend paper in those days just to make sure I knew Lou as well as I could know him. That is probably the only time I have ever coached against a coach. I really don't spend much time on it. Nowadays, everybody is changing. The head coach right now in my business, the offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators have so much to say about what goes on that in the process of the football game with us it is your defensive coordinator is trying to get ahead of the offensive coordinator and the other team, it is vice versa. We are not quite like basketball in the sense that we have 25 seconds between each play to make a decision. Basketball is so fast. To me, I have never coached against a coach, except for the one incident I mentioned.
What was it that you saw in Rene Portland that impressed you when you hired her?
I thought she was kind of cute (laughter). Because she was a pain in the backside. She wanted my office, and written letter and everything. I thought if she is that aggressive, she will give it a good shot. Her background and her attitude about women's basketball and where it would come. I'll never forget when we had to pay Rene a little bit more than what one of the guys in Old Main wanted me to pay her. I said, "It will be the best deal you ever make. Some day we will have 8,000-10,000 people in Rec Hall." He said, "The day you fill Rec Hall for a women's basketball game, I'll kiss your ?? at mid court." I am still waiting.
Are you impressed with how far women's athletics has come?
Absolutely. Bob Scannell has never gotten quite the credit he should get. We may have a slight Title IX problem, I don't know. Maybe we have too many football players out that we dress for walk-ons or maybe somebody doesn't get to go travel exactly right. I don't know about that thing, but I think that this institution has made a real strong commitment to try to have really fine opportunities for women in the athletic area. I am proud of that fact.
Haven't you been a big part of that?
What have I done? I haven't done anything. The players have done it because they have made some money. That is also our fans and the people who give us money, like the Nittany Lion Club, and the whole bit. There is less and less of their dependence on us. Rene has her group that is giving money now.
What is the situation with Jesse Neumyer?
Jesse has had a knee operation. Jesse can go. He would be healthy to go. They feel the more he works on it, the bigger the danger is that he will have an arthritic condition later in his life. He is not a guy that has any aspirations for football beyond the college level. He is not going to be a dominant player. He is a really good student and wants to get started on his MBA and that is what he is going to do. He will graduate this summer. He has two more years of football if he wanted to take it, but he is a really good student and he wants to get on with things.
Are you going to be looking at ways to use Michael Robinson more creatively this spring?
We are not going to do anything, except give Michael a chance to be the first string quarterback. I think we owe that to him. We may do a little gimmick or two with him just to have a little fun every once in awhile, but right now he is a quarterback and he deserves a chance to prove he is the best one we have. As I said earlier going into this, Zack Mills deserves to be number one and somebody has to beat him out.
You have been challenging the linemen for awhile. Who are some of the guys the offensive line will be built around?
Dave Costlow is not one that I have to challenge. Dave is a kid that, I think, will be fine at center. We are going to be doing some changing and things like that. I don¡¯t feel as if we can¡¯t get it done. I think that we can get it done. We had a little setback where Bill Kenney broke his leg. He will be out there, but he won¡¯t be able to do some things.
How did Bill Kenney break his leg?
Bill got the idea that he was an athlete and he went skiing.
What will Ernie Terrell¡¯s situation be this spring as far as track and football are concerned?
He competed in indoor track. I thought we had a pretty good arrangement with the track coaches. He came to part of the winter workout, but not all of it. He is going to be in all of the spring practice. He has to do that. After that, if he wants to go out for track, that is fine. Right now he is going to be all football this spring. He is not going to miss any spring practice. If it works out that they want to use him or something on a Wednesday when we are not practicing or something like that, I am not going to nit pick. The conditions are, right now, that he is going to try to become a first string wideout.