Paterno family adjusts to new era at Penn State

Penn State’s season opener on Saturday will be the first since

1949 not featuring someone with the last name Paterno on the

coaching staff. They’re out of the picture, like the campus statue

of the family patriarch; erased like his coaching records.

But the family will be in Beaver Stadium in spirit, if not

watching from a skybox – a sign that through the turmoil of the

past few months, life goes on for the clan that was synonymous with

Penn State for decades and remains firmly rooted in a supportive

community.

Scandal tarnished the legacy of the late Joe Paterno, the Hall

of Famer who coached the Nittany Lions until his firing in November

days after former assistant Jerry Sandusky was arrested on child

sex abuse charges. Son and former longtime assistant coach Jay

Paterno no longer tutors the quarterbacks.

Jay Paterno, one of Joe and Sue Paterno’s five children, has

been traveling and writing columns at a time when he’s usually used

to getting ready for the season opener.

”It’s such a change in your lifestyle. Credit to Jay. Jay has

kept himself busy. He’s smart enough, savvy enough,” said Tim

Sweeney, a businessman and former player who is head of the

Football Letterman’s Club. Sweeney, who said he can relate as a

former high school coach himself, briefly saw Jay Paterno at a

charity golf outing in early August.

”Still, their hearts will be at Beaver Stadium on Saturday,”

said Sweeney, referring to Jay Paterno and the other veteran

assistants who left after the arrival of Bill O’Brien, Paterno’s

replacement as head coach.

The family, as part of Paterno’s employment agreement, received

use of a Beaver Stadium suite for 25 years. Family members intend

to attend the season opener against Ohio University on Saturday,

but only to show their support for the new regime, family spokesman

Dan McGinn said.

”The family doesn’t want to do anything to distract from the

game this weekend,” he said.

Affixed to the front screen door of the Paternos’ modest ranch

home is a copy of a blue and white sign also on display in the

windows of most downtown businesses, some homes and even cars. The

message on the sign reads: ”Proud to Support Penn State

Football.”

Members of the Paterno family either did not return calls or

would not comment for this article. But the community of State

College, often known as Happy Valley, appears to remain protective

of the closest thing it has to a royal family.

Neighbors said that while Sue Paterno might venture out a little

less than before the scandal hit, grandchildren, other relatives

and friends still stop by the house regularly. Well-wishers,

strangers among them, drop off Penn State paraphernalia or other

messages of support in the front yard or doorstep.

Most in the broader community who talked to The Associated Press

said what happened was tragic and they’re sympathetic to the

sex-abuse victims, but they perceived a rush to judgment about Joe

Paterno’s role in the scandal.

Sue Paterno continues to volunteer with Special Olympics, a

charity she has long championed. A new Catholic student center

across the street from campus bearing her name appears near

completion.

”We are so grateful to her and the entire Paterno family for

their dedication, prayers, and support,” the Roman Catholic

Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown said in a statement. ”Because of Mrs.

Paterno and so many others, Catholic students at Penn State will

soon have a place to call their very own.”

Sue Paterno stayed mostly out of sight at a summer pep rally for

the team, save for a brief appearance at a side door of Penn

State’s football building. Unseen by most of the dozens of fans at

the early morning rally, she was there and gone – quickly.

Lawyer and former Penn State defensive back Adam Taliaferro, now

a university trustee, grew close to the Paternos after suffering a

serious spinal cord injury in a game against Ohio State in 2000. He

said he spoke to Sue inside the football building while fans

rallied outside and told the AP she was ”one of the strongest

women I know.”

”All of us together will help her get through it,” Taliaferro

said. ”She will always remain a huge part of the university.”

Paterno started with Penn State as an assistant coach in 1950,

becoming head coach in 1966.

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s university-commissioned report

in July said Paterno and three other school officials concealed

allegations against Sandusky. Ten days later, the school took down

the bronzed statue of Paterno outside Beaver Stadium.

Then, the NCAA announced it had accepted the findings and levied

unprecedented penalties on the program including a four-year bowl

ban, significant scholarship cuts and a $60 million fine. The NCAA

vacated every Penn State win from 1998-2011, and Paterno was

stripped of 111 career victories – meaning he no longer holds the

record for most coaching wins in major college football.

Paterno, who was diagnosed with lung cancer days after his

firing, was not interviewed by Freeh’s team, and the family said

the NCAA had not contacted the family or the family’s attorney. He

died in January.

The family has said university leadership and the NCAA accepted

Freeh’s conclusions in a rush to judgment, without due process and

a questioning of the findings. They vowed after Freeh released his

findings that they would conduct their own investigation, which is

ongoing, McGinn said.

”They’re not looking for sympathy,” McGinn said when asked how

the Paternos have reacted to criticism. ”The family is very stoic

about this. The intent is just that the complete truth comes

out.”

Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasA