KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. — Off-field issues have managed to do to Joe Paterno what four decades as Penn State’s head coach never really could: tire him out.
“I have to fight sometimes to get out of bed,” Paterno said Monday night. “It’s been a long year. But in a lot of ways, it’s been a good year.”
It just hasn’t been so good at times lately.
Paterno, still recovering from a violent sideline collision last season, called an off-campus confrontation involving a few of his Penn State players a “team embarrassment.”
And soon, the number associated with his name might not be his 363 career wins, but his salary.
Even when he’s swarmed by former players and fans, it’s not always easy being “JoePa.”
Paterno, men’s basketball coach Ed DeChellis and women’s hoops coach Coquese Washington visited this town 20 miles west outside Philadelphia to meet the media, and fans and alumni. Paterno, 80, cracked some jokes and assured everyone his health was fine, but a trial for two of his players still weighed on the coach.
While charges were dismissed against four players, Anthony Scirrotto and Chris Baker were ordered to stand trial after authorities said they were involved in an off-campus fight. Scirrotto and Baker face charges including burglary, criminal trespass, simple assault and harassment.
Paterno said he heard Scirrotto’s side of the story and the coach described it as a “little skirmish downtown.”
“He got a little irate, called up a couple of his buddies and said, ’Hey, come on down.’ They went over there and they got in a fight,” he said.
A formal arraignment is scheduled within a few weeks, and Scirrotto’s attorney said a trial date would likely be set for early August — about the time Penn State begins preseason practice.
“My biggest concern is what’s going to come out of that incident that we had,” Paterno said. “I’m hopeful that people will keep their heads, won’t go overboard on it. What it basically comes down to is, it was a fight. I’m not condoning our kids in it.”
While a possible punishment in the courts is still to be decided, Paterno already handed one down to the entire team: the Nittany Lions will clean Beaver Stadium on Sundays after every home game. Paterno also said all of his players would do several hours of community service.
“I don’t condone it. Our kids were wrong,” Paterno said.
While that could be enough to wear down Paterno, he’s still ready to start season No. 42 with the Nittany Lions on the sideline and close to the action.
A broken right leg and torn knee ligaments suffered when he was run over by a player during a game at Wisconsin in November caused Paterno to miss a game and coach the Outback Bowl from a coach’s box.
Paterno admits he might feel some apprehension when he stands on the sideline for the first time since that collision when Penn State plays Florida International on Sept. 1.
“I’ve been in practice. I went to all the practices, moved around the practice field and got involved in some drills,” said Paterno, who can break Amos Alonzo Stagg’s record for the most years coaching at one school this season. Stagg led the University of Chicago from 1892 to 1932.
Paterno said he can’t run yet, but hoped to start sometime this summer. He wears down easily, but insisted he’s otherwise fine, saying he recently walked about 55 minutes up and down trails and hills near his house.
Paterno even spends less time in his office, but not because of health issues or because he’s thinking of winding down after all this time. No, Paterno simply has too many fans popping in to check up on him.
“So many people come up, I can’t get anything done,” said Paterno, prompting chuckles.
Maybe they’re just poking around to find out how much he makes.
Penn State will not disclose the salaries of its administrators and employees, and has tried to block an attempt by a reporter for the Patriot-News of Harrisburg to find out the salary of Paterno and three top administrators.
The state Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this month on whether secret salaries of Penn State employees, including Paterno, should be released to the public.
“I don’t care whether they release it or don’t release it,” Paterno said. “I don’t care if they find out I made 5, 6 million bucks a year. That’s fine. Putting up with (the media), I guess I deserve it.”