Another thing that is prevented by winning is criticism of the coach. Now, for the first time, there is active sniping at Paterno in State College. And, heaven forbid, even boos. Yup, they were booing Joe Paterno in College Station last fall.
They booed because they didn't like his quarterback, Dayle Tate; they booed because after 14 years they had become tired of watching Penn State run off tackle; they booed because they don't like losing—even four games. Even George Paterno concedes, "Joe's going to have to open up the offense. They've got to be less predictable."
The fact is, Penn State could use an imaginative offensive coordinator rather than have Paterno continue in that role. Paterno adopted a conservative mode of offense because for years Penn State played soft schedules, with only an occasional biggie. His brother says, "When you have the best players, all you have to do is block the same play five different ways."
Now tougher schedules are in the offing. This fall the Nittany Lions play Texas A&M, Nebraska and Missouri on consecutive Saturdays. In 1981 Penn State takes on Nebraska, Missouri, Alabama, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State. "It's no fun," says Joe, "unless you beat the big guys. We're not going to win all our games. That's stupid to even think about. But we're going to have fun playing." See, there's that pious Paterno again.
The fun had better include a few good victories. Beaver Stadium, built 20 years ago, will expand from 76,600 to 86,000 seats this autumn and could soon be enlarged to seat 92,000. Losing won't fill those seats. Football revenues at Penn State in 1979 totaled $4.8 million. Fun to a bottom-liner is seeing revenues grow.
Fun to Penn State partisans, apart from winning, is analyzing Paterno's every move. Those who do not assert that he is perfect have a list of quibbles: he sticks too long with his seniors, out of loyalty, when there are better underclassmen on the team; he is slow to admit he needs help; he sees too much good in every person. Grumps brother George, who calls himself Joe's biggest critic, "I know people who are real bastards, and we'll get to talking about one of them and Joe will say, 'He's a nice guy.' "
But the biggest single criticism of Paterno is his air of righteousness. Says George, "Is he too pious? Absolutely. If you don't wear a backward collar, it's hard to get away with piety." Says Joe, "I don't like to put myself up as a do-gooder, but I am. We have an obligation to try to make these athletes better people. If a kid goes through here and can't read and write but can knock people down, is that good? We've got more of an obligation than that."
In truth, Joe Paterno cares about learning—book learning, not just Xs and Os. But, like all coaches, he must grapple with a developing crisis that has resulted in scandal at some schools and the potential for trouble at all. Many athletes aren't making it academically. Many of these never really figured to. Yet the pressures to win are such that coaches and academic administrators take risks with superior athletes who have inadequate educational backgrounds. Too many of them, of course, do a lot more.
McCoy, one of the three starters in the Penn State defensive backfield who were declared academically ineligible, was one of five black football players admitted in 1977 who did not meet Penn State's entrance requirements. However, they easily met the NCAA standard, a 2.0 high school average. McCoy failed, the other four are doing fine. "We are fighting a lily-white look here," says Paterno. "And among that group of five that I asked to have specially admitted, only one was a super high school athlete. As for the other four, we easily could have gotten white players as good or better who were fully qualified." To get them in, Joe went to University President John Oswald and said, "Let's take a chance on some kids who are good bets."
Paterno does concede that "other students don't have somebody going to bat for them to get them admitted, so that's a break for the football player."