Paterno still eager despite 3-9 season
Joe Paterno is spending December in an unusual way -- recruiting and preparing for holiday visits from his grandchildren instead of gearing up for a bowl game.
Coming off his worst season ever as a coach at Penn State, Paterno has no plans to retire. He still has some lofty goals he wants to achieve.
"I've coached undefeated football teams in the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s. That's four decades that I've had undefeated teams," Paterno said Friday, two days before he turns 77. "We had a shot at the national championship in every single one of those decades.
"I want to do it for five decades. Every year that's what I want to do. I really thought we had a legitimate shot at it last year and I'm working my butt off to give us a chance to get it done before I get out of it. I understand what it takes to get it done and I know how to get it done."
Penn State finished a miserable season with a 3-9 record, 1-7 in the Big Ten. It was the third time in the last four years the Nittany Lions had a losing record, and just the fourth losing season since Paterno joined the coaching staff in 1950.
The Nittany Lions set one ignominious record after another this season. Nine losses were the most ever for a Penn State team, breaking the record set during a 2-8 season in 1931. And Penn State's three wins came against teams -- Temple, Kent State and Indiana -- that went 8-28.
Penn State didn't win a road game for the first time since the 1936 season, and finished below .500 in the Big Ten for the first time since joining the conference for the 1993 season. The Nittany Lions finished tied for ninth in a league they expected to dominate when they joined a decade ago.
"I don't know about physically, but it took a lot out of me mentally," Paterno said. "Nobody likes to lose and this team lost more than any other I've been around. But I feel great now. I have a little bit of a flu, but other than that, I feel great.
"We expect to have a lot of good players returning and recruiting has gone well. Now can I do it for another 10 years? I don't know. When you're 90, it's kind of tough to be a football coach."
Paterno came to Penn State 53 years ago as an assistant to Rip Engle, then took over as head coach in 1966. His career record is 339-109-3. Earlier this year, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden passed Paterno as the coach with the most major-college wins, a record Paterno took two years ago from the late Paul "Bear" Bryant.
Penn State's season was marred by an unprecedented number of player arrests that provided a constant distraction throughout the year.
The first, and worst, of a series of off-field troubles came last spring when Anwar Phillips was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a female student on campus. A jury over the summer found him innocent, but when the details were made public in the spring Paterno was vilified for allowing Phillips to play in the Capital One Bowl, two weeks after Phillips had been expelled from the university.
During the summer and fall, seven more current and former players were arrested or cited, including redshirt freshman Maurice Humphrey, the team's No. 2 receiver. On the day after the season ended, Humphrey was charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, harassment and criminal mischief for an alleged on-campus assault. He was temporarily expelled from the university earlier this month.
"Maurice has some problems," Paterno said, adding he didn't expect Humphrey to play next season. "He's a good kid. I don't approve of what he did."
In his 38 seasons as coach, Paterno has led Penn State to two national championships (1982, 1986), four title games, seven undefeated, untied regular seasons and 31 bowl games (20-10-1).
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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