Joe Paterno speaks to reporters at the Big Ten Conference media day Thursday in Chicago.AP PHOTO
CHICAGO — He admits to being irritated about getting the same question in hundreds of different forms. For decades now, people have tried to come up with creative ways of asking Joe Paterno how much longer he plans on coaching.
But while Penn State’s 81-year-old coach rolled his eyes again when it came up at the Big Ten Kickoff event on Thursday, he still gave it a thoughtful answer.
“I’d like to retire when I feel as though I can’t make a contribution to Penn State,” said Paterno, who is entering his 43rd season as Penn State’s head coach. “I want to get out of it when I think it’s appropriate, and I want to make sure that when I do it, I do it the way Rip Engle did it.
“When Rip Engle gave me a shot, he left a lot of meat on the bones. I inherited a really good football team. I hope I can do the same thing when I decide to get out. ... I’m having a lot of fun and I don’t want to get out of it. But I don’t want to be too stupid that I go so far that I’m not leaving it the way I’d like to leave it.”
A Penn State spokesman said a student broke into the Lasch Building on campus early Thursday morning and caused between $5,000-10,000 worth of damage.
Penn State said the incident at the football offices occurred at approximately 3:15 a.m. by a student on his 21st birthday. Much of the damage was done in the team’s weight room.
The student – Daniel Costenbader – has been charged with several felonies including burglary and trespassing. Penn State said Costenbader was at one point holding the Alamo Bowl trophy – won by the Nittany Lions in December – when police arrived.
“I know about it, but I don’t know any details,” Paterno said. “One of the secretaries said they vandalized the place. ... My wife is all upset. There’s windows broken and I guess there’s a sizable amount of damage and the kid that did it was kind of a little bit out of whack. It’s unfortunate. It’s so unnecessary.”
Former Penn State wide receiver Chris Bell pleaded guilty to misdemeanor terroristic threats this week.
The blue-chip wideout from Norfolk, Va., had been suspended from the team during the spring when police said he threatened a teammate with a knife during a team meal on campus in April.
He was then permanently removed from the team.
“I told him when it happened, ‘You can’t (stay) here, Chris. You oughta think about getting a new start and learn from what happened. You can’t take your frustrations out,’” said Paterno, who addressed the incident in detail for the first time on Thursday. “And he was frustrated. He wasn’t playing the way he thought he could play.
“It was a whole ... scenario, I guess would be the best word (to describe) what happened. I just tried to tell him, ‘Hey, look – none of us are perfect. You made a mistake. Try to figure out what’s best for you.’ And I said, ‘I’ll help you if you want to transfer.’”
Paterno said he thought Bell might end up at Hampton. Earlier in the summer, Bell said he was going to enroll at Norfolk State.
ESPN is scheduled to run a piece on Penn State’s off-field problems during its investigative half-hour show “Outside the Lines” on Sunday.
“We’ve had problems,” Paterno said. “How they portray the problems, I don’t know. Are we trying to handle them in the best way that I think? I don’t particularly want anybody else to handle them. You talk about a kid like Chris Bell. What do I want to do, crucify him?
“I mean, he was wrong. But I would hope that we could help him step back from the mistake and go on with his life. Obviously it can’t be at Penn State. I just don’t want to tie my hands. I want to be able to handle each kid the best way I think I should for each one of them. The program is obviously very important. But not bigger than the people that are in it.”
As for the five players who were suspended for the spring along with Bell – Chris Baker, Navorro Bowman, Andrew Quarless, Phil Taylor and Knowledge Timmons – Paterno said he was still waiting for their final grades to come in.
Penn State’s second summer session of classes ends in mid-August, roughly two weeks into the start of preseason practice.
Paterno said he may let some of them come out to practice before then, though he didn’t name anyone specifically. All five suspended players appear in the team’s just released 2008 yearbook. None had been listed in the spring prospectus.