More than 10 Questions with Jay Paterno

Jay Paterno
Jay Paterno

This summer Onward State had the opportunity to interview Penn State Football’s QB Coach Jay Paterno. We collectively panicked to figure out what questions to ask, but then after pulling ourselves together we were able to come up with a well rounded interview. Coach Paterno was very generous in his responses to what was supposed to be a 10 questions interview and let us peer into his unique role as both a coach and the son of a football legend.

OS: What is your favorite part about game day?

JP: The best part of game day is when the ball is kicked off and we get into the ebb and flow, the give and take. It is seeing how the opponents try to stop what we are doing and then adjusting our attack. That is the fun of game day, the mental part of the game, the competition—and all in front of 110,000+ fans and millions more at home watching on television.

OS: What have you found so appealing about “Dear Old State” to make you want to stay and work/raise a family in State College?

JP: It was a great town to be a kid in, and it is a great town to raise a family. You have a lot of exciting events—From Arts Fest, to sporting events, to cultural events—all the things you’d find in a big city without the traffic and other problems you get in a city. If I want to get outside, I am minutes from hiking, biking, skiing, fishing anything else you’d want to do. If I want to get away—I can drive to NYC, Philly, DC, Baltimore or Pittsburgh all of which are under four hours away.

More than all of that, Penn State is home, it is in my blood and probably in my DNA. It is the goals of excellence in academics and athletics for our student-athletes that makes this unique.

It’s walking into The Tavern and seeing the old Penn State photos and knowing that you are a part of a tradition that is so much bigger than just one game or one season.

OS: As a student at Penn State, how do you think your experience differed from other students, considering your father was the football coach.

JP: Obviously, it was a different experience. A lot of people knew who I was before I knew who they were, so you had to be a little careful. I can remember inviting a girl over to my house for my birthday. Her sorority sisters made a big deal about helping her pick out what to wear because she was going to eat at Joe Paterno’s house. Neither she, nor I ever thought of it in those terms, but I saw how others perceived me.

Most of the time I met people, I didn’t really mention my last name—didn’t feel it was important. I felt that I’d like people to be in interested in me—not in my father.

Other than that it wasn’t terribly different.

OS: How would you describe your interaction with your father when it comes to coaching?

JP: My interaction with him is strictly professional. I refer to him as Coach, or Joe at work so that everyone understands that I am no different than the other guys on the staff.

That is the only way to handle the situation. It does not matter what business you are in, a son or daughter working for a father or mother has to overcome the perception that he or she is only there for one reason. You have to prove yourself and clear a bar that is higher than it is for anyone else.

It is a tough deal at times, particularly when you are in a business as public as major college football. But I wouldn’t trade the experience I’ve had here for anything.

OS: Some suspect you’ll head into politics…At this point, do you think you’ll run for office? Do you think your experience as a football coach would be beneficial if you were a politician?

JP: I think the experience of being a coach is very beneficial. At a place like Penn State, you are involved in the education of young people. You are involved in helping young men begin to realize what life is all about.

You go recruiting and you understand something very important about this country—that we are more similar than we are different. Each young man we recruit was raised by someone—parents or a single parent, or a grandparent—and they pour their hearts, lives and souls into those young men. They have the same dreams for their children that I have for mine—an education, and a chance for a good life.

As for any future in politics, that is down the road–if at all. For now I have been able to get involved to try and help other people get elected. That is more than enough for me now.

In my mind the only reason for anyone to get involved in politics—is the reason Robert F Kennedy gave before he ran for President. After he toured an impoverished area in this country he said to an aide “This is why you go into politics, because you can use your position to help people in trouble.”

I love coaching and that is my future. Right now in politics, I think I can do more by helping other people get elected. That’s my role in politics and I am fine with that.

OS: With Stephfon Green still recovering with his ankle injury, will Evan Royster be given a significant increase in carries to start the season? Or will we see more of Sophomore Brandon Beachum?

Stephfon’s ankle will be ready to go. That said, we have a talented pool of running backs and there are several good players that we’d like to get involved.

OS: The Lions had the majority of their offensive linemen graduate – with standouts Rich Ohrenberger, A.Q. Shipley, and Gerald Cadogan signing with the Patriots, Steelers, and Panthers respectively. Has anyone on the Offensive Line stepped up to a leadership role?

JP: Dennis Landolt and Stefen Wisniewski are guys who we’ll look for to step up. In the spring practice, you could see both of them doing that. We’ll really find out what we have in preseason and in the games, so we’ll see what happens.

OS: When something isn’t going well during a game, who does Joe tend to yell at the most? Is it you? Or is it Wide Recievers coach Mike McQueary? Because from our view from the stands, it seems like McQueary gets the brunt of his displeasure.

JP: That is a perception that a lot of people have as it relates to Mike McQueary. Most of the time Joe isn’t yelling because of anything other than the need to yell over the noise of 110,000+ fans.

Contrary to what many think, when things aren’t going well, Joe is usually yelling something along the lines of—“tell the guys not to panic, we’re one play from getting back into the game.”

Other times he comes down and tells Mike about a play he wants us to run. Last year on a 3rd and 9 against Indiana he told us he wanted to run the reverse—and 39 yards later we had Derrick Williams crossing the goal-line for a touchdown.

OS: The first three games of the season, known officially as out-of-conference games but to fans as “cupcake games,” feature Akron, Syracuse, and Temple as opponents. In your opinion, which team is most likely to surprise the skeptics and give the Nittany Lions a run for their money?

JP: Fans can call them whatever they want. Because our goal is a National Title, we don’t look at non-conference games any differently than conference games. The first three games will all present different challenges and to play for a National Title we have to play very well and win them all.

Akron has an excellent Head Coach and is program that is on the move—with a new on-campus stadium and some very good talent.

Syracuse has an entirely new coaching staff. That presents big challenges in preparing—there are no tendencies to study. As a result, you have to make a lot of in-game adjustments.

We have to be ready to attack each opponent and be ready to adjust to anything new we may see out of them.

OS: The spread offense is becoming more and more prevalent in college football, but scouts often downgrade spread offense quarterbacks’ pro potential even if they win games. Obviously, you’ve seen the benefits of the system in implementing the Spread HD – but do you believe that it has an effect on NFL aspirations?

JP: The term “spread” offense is used to refer to a whole bunch of offenses that are completely different. Michigan and Illinois have a spread offense that is vastly different than the spread offense at Texas Tech. Michigan may throw it 15 times in a game, while Texas Tech may throw it 15 times in a quarter. Both teams run “The Spread Offense” yet they are nothing alike.

I’ve heard NFL guys say that a lot of the Spread offenses don’t allow them to see QBs make complex reads. There is some truth in the criticisms of some Spread Offenses.
That is not the case with our offense.

Our Spread HD is a combination of a complex NFL Pass game while also incorporating some QB run game and single back run game. We also have a two-back attack. Our system asks our quarterbacks to make the same reads you see the NFL guys making.

Bill Polian—the General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts—told the Buffalo News that our offense is a good offense to evaluate college players for the NFL. He cited our pass/run balance and the diversity of our attack as pluses in their evaluation or our players for the NFL.

I take that as a big compliment—coming from a guy who has had as much success at the NFL level as he’s had.

OS: Tennessee Volunteers head coach Lane Kiffin’s allegedly aggressive recruiting strategies have made the news as of late. What’s the most bizarre recruiting situation you have been a part of?

There have been more than a few—some involving people still in college so I don’t really want to get into any particular stories. There may be a book in that some day.

OS: During the games, it’s hard to really get a sense of who the players are. They’re so athletically gifted, it’s easy to forget that they all have unique personalities and interest. Who comes to mind as a goofball in the locker room? Who lightens the mood?

JP: Brett Brackett has a good Borat impression. Ollie Ogbu did a great act for his Freshman entertainment. There are other guys who take guys pictures and put them on a yearbook yourself web site. Darryl Clark is another big personality, but he’s more serious than he used to be now that he has a big leadership role.

OS: Out of this past year’s recruiting class, QB Kevin Newsome has been getting the most attention because of his highly scouted status and apparent destiny to become the Lion’s starter after next year. Is there a recruit that really wowed people in practice, but we somehow haven’t heard about?

JP: We haven’t seen any of those guys yet, as we are not allowed to work with them in the summer. For me to say who has wowed anyone—I couldn’t really tell you with any certainty. But we will see soon enough.

We can’t express how grateful we are to Coach Paterno for taking the time out of his busy schedule in preparation for a NATIONAL TITLE. Keep coming back to OnwardState.com, as we look forward to more interviews in the future with high profile members of the Penn State community.

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About the Author

Stefan Choquette

Stefan is currently a Junior Integrative Arts major with a background in Computer Science. Stefan is a veteran of the US Air Force and is currently enrolled in ROTC to return as an officer after graduation. Stefan is a founding brother of Phi Kappa Sigma and a licensed private pilot. Stefan formally served as our Editor of Photography, and now helps with staff photography.

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