Vet move: JoePa leaves room to 1st-year coaches
Penn State coach Joe Paterno pulled a veteran move at what was supposed to be a news conference with his first-year counterparts from Pitt and Temple, posing for pictures briefly before walking out the door without answering a question.
Only college football's elder statesman could pull this off, leaving a podium at his own team's headquarters to the head coaches from two in-state rivals.
''It's an honor for me to spend time with him today,'' Panthers coach Todd Graham said Friday, with Owls coach Steve Addazio looking on at a gathering to promote Pennsylvania high school football.
''It's a thrill to be here, to be around him,'' Graham said, ''around someone who's made that kind of impact for a long period of time.''
For the record, it's 45 seasons and counting for the 84-year-old Paterno - more than enough time to develop a tendency the last couple years to try to shy away from offseason functions that might draw a large crowd or an ever-inquisitive group of reporters.
When it comes to football though, it's business as usual.
On Friday, Paterno, Graham and Addazio met with a group of high school coaches to talk about plans for a Pennsylvania high school football convention, an all-star game and high school football coaches hall of fame exhibits at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and State College.
The coaches then came to the Penn State team squad room where they all posed for photographers against the backdrop of the blue Nittany Lions logo before the high school coaches took the first turn at the microphone. Paterno walked away, briefcase in hand, saying ''These guys are doing a great job.'' A team spokesman said Paterno had another appointment.
For Addazio, it was just the third time he had spoken with Paterno, major college football's winningest coach with 401 victories since 1966. Taking over at Temple after Al Golden left for Miami, Addazio will be the school's eighth head coach since Paterno took over in Happy Valley.
It's an even longer list at Pitt, where Graham was hired in January following the embarrassing two-week tenure of Mike Haywood. The former Miami (Ohio) coach was fired Jan. 1 following his arrest in Indiana on a domestic violence charge. Haywood entered a court diversion program as part of deal reached at a court hearing in February, and a judge said the charge will be dismissed in a year if Haywood meets conditions of the agreement.
Counting Haywood, Pitt has had 12 either full-time or interim head coaches since Paterno became head coach.
Graham and Addazio viewed Friday's meeting as important in maintaining roots to the state's often prolific pipeline of football talent.
''It's a two-way street. We need them and they need us,'' said Camp Hill High School coach Frank Gay, who praised Graham and Addazio for making their staffs available for a coaching clinic in February, just as each was settling into their respective positions.
''Because they're new, they (said), 'Listen, we've got to get in front of these coaches because those are the kids we're going to be recruiting. We need to know those coaches,''' Gay said in recounting the conversations. ''And that's the same as coach Paterno said, 'We're here to support you as long as it's in compliance.' They came in and said the exact same thing.''
Following an 0-11 season at Temple in 2005, Golden arrived in 2006 and the team went 1-11. But Temple has won 26 games the past four seasons. Now Addazio, a former Florida assistant, is head coach after Golden left to coach the Hurricanes.
Sitting to the side while the high school coaches spoke, Addazio grinned when someone gave Penn State, Pitt and Temple the moniker of Pennsylvania's ''Big Three.''
''I sat right in that chair and I heard them when they said, 'The Big Three.' I felt great about that. That's a credit to Al Golden,'' Addazio said. ''I said, 'How about that?' That's the way it should be, and I want it to continue and grow.''
Addazio said he would welcome a chance to establish a Penn State-Pitt-Temple round-robin series, similar to the rivalries Florida has with in-state foes Florida State and Miami.
But only Temple and Penn State currently play each year. Penn State and Pitt once had a high-profile rivalry, but the two schools haven't met since 2000. Graham said Friday he ''would naturally love'' to play Penn State in the future, though the topic didn't come up Friday with Paterno.