"I don't know what that means, if anything, but a lot of things have come together. We've been beefing up the schedule. Eastern football is better than people think, but it's also true we haven't always played enough of the best teams. We've got Alabama, Notre Dame and Nebraska, home-and-home, in 1981 and '82. This year we've got a representative schedule and more talent than we've had since I've been here. We just haven't played up to it [in plug-along victories, 10-7 over Temple and 26-10 over Rutgers]. I don't blame the fans for being frustrated. We're not a good team yet.
"Last week I yelled at them a lot, because they weren't practicing well and they weren't playing up to their capabilities. Now we've got Ohio State, and I shouldn't have to yell. This is the fun game. This is the kind of game you win if you want to be No. 1. This is 88,000 people, and Woody Hayes, and the strategy and the preparation. I love it. I'm anxious to play it. But Woody and I won't be making any tackles."
Paterno laughs. He recalls a clinic he and Hayes attended a couple years ago.
"Two days in a row I noticed Woody eating by himself in the restaurant. Each day I went over and sat with him, to be sociable. As soon as I sat down, he started lecturing me on what I was doing wrong."
Paterno's Dodge station wagon, modestly festooned with Penn State stickers, is the last to arrive at the Tuesday morning meeting in the Recreation Building. He takes a brief ribbing for being five minutes late. "The second time in 20 years," he protests.
Empty Coke bottles and coffee cups already clutter the tables, which are arranged in a T. Paterno occupies the top of the T, with a blackboard at his back. A matching pair of flytraps, covered with victims, hangs from the air-conditioning ducts, which leak. While the staff awaits new offices, meetings have to be held in make-do quarters at the 49-year-old Recreation Building.
Like most good football coaching staffs, Paterno's is a blend of vintages. There are cerebral young defensive coaches like John Rosenberg, a Harvard man with a Masters in psychology, and stringy 24-year veterans like J. T. White, of a type commonly known as "a field coach." While White's clattering voice covers the area, Bob Phillips' is seldom raised in coaching the quarterbacks.
As a group, they are a study in orchestrated compromise. Articulate Booker Brooks could, says Paterno, provide 60 reasons for throwing 60 passes a game to the receivers he coaches if you let him. Jerry Sandusky is an intense scholar of defenses who is so animated that Paterno says he sometimes withholds his own criticisms lest Jerry take it personally. Dick Anderson, a firebrand, agonizes over the failures of his offensive linemen but he is subjected to Paterno's sniping encouragement. When Anderson is too long in the shower, Paterno will stick his head in and shout, "What are you doing in there, Dick? Slashing your wrists?"
Unlike some staffs, this one is close socially, its members regulars at Paterno's table, and they are free and candid in debate. "Sometimes I wish I had a guy who could just go out and get things done, no questions asked," says Paterno, laughing. "Like the Mafia." They have one common enemy: time. The time they have with their players before a big game. They sort it carefully and spend it according to the exigencies like a band of misers in a common counting house—beg a minute here, borrow a minute there. Paterno, however, makes the final disbursement.
The terminology of the meeting is, in itself, a patois of compressed time-saving phrases: receivers are not tight ends, wide receivers and flankers, they are "X," "Y" and "Z." The middle guard is "Mike," the weakside linebacker "Willie." Paterno recalls spending half a day with an assistant trying to find a name for the outside linebacker. Only when interrupted by a call from a local pizza parlor did they come up with it: "Fritz," after the proprietor.