Paterno family adjusts to new era at Penn State

Associated Press
FILE - In this Saturday, Oct. 10, 2009, file photo, Penn State assistant coach Jay Paterno looks on as his team warms up for their  NCAA college football game against Eastern Illinois in State College, Pa. When Penn State opens its football season on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012, for the first time since 1965, no one with the last name of Paterno will be on the sidelines. Joe died of cancer in January 2012, just months after losing his job in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. Jay has been traveling and writing columns at a time when he's usually used to getting ready for the season opener. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State's season opener on Saturday will be the first since 1949 not featuring someone with the last name Paterno on the coaching staff. They're out of the picture, like the campus statue of the family patriarch; erased like his coaching records.

But the family will be in Beaver Stadium in spirit, if not watching from a skybox — a sign that through the turmoil of the past few months, life goes on for the clan that was synonymous with Penn State for decades and remains firmly rooted in a supportive community.

Scandal tarnished the legacy of the late Joe Paterno, the Hall of Famer who coached the Nittany Lions until his firing in November days after former assistant Jerry Sandusky was arrested on child sex abuse charges. Son and former longtime assistant coach Jay Paterno no longer tutors the quarterbacks.

Jay Paterno, one of Joe and Sue Paterno's five children, has been traveling and writing columns at a time when he's usually used to getting ready for the season opener.

"It's such a change in your lifestyle. Credit to Jay. Jay has kept himself busy. He's smart enough, savvy enough," said Tim Sweeney, a businessman and former player who is head of the Football Letterman's Club. Sweeney, who said he can relate as a former high school coach himself, briefly saw Jay Paterno at a charity golf outing in early August.

"Still, their hearts will be at Beaver Stadium on Saturday," said Sweeney, referring to Jay Paterno and the other veteran assistants who left after the arrival of Bill O'Brien, Paterno's replacement as head coach.

The family, as part of Paterno's employment agreement, received use of a Beaver Stadium suite for 25 years. Family members intend to attend the season opener against Ohio University on Saturday, but only to show their support for the new regime, family spokesman Dan McGinn said.

"The family doesn't want to do anything to distract from the game this weekend," he said.

Affixed to the front screen door of the Paternos' modest ranch home is a copy of a blue and white sign also on display in the windows of most downtown businesses, some homes and even cars. The message on the sign reads: "Proud to Support Penn State Football."

Members of the Paterno family either did not return calls or would not comment for this article. But the community of State College, often known as Happy Valley, appears to remain protective of the closest thing it has to a royal family.

Neighbors said that while Sue Paterno might venture out a little less than before the scandal hit, grandchildren, other relatives and friends still stop by the house regularly. Well-wishers, strangers among them, drop off Penn State paraphernalia or other messages of support in the front yard or doorstep.

Most in the broader community who talked to The Associated Press said what happened was tragic and they're sympathetic to the sex-abuse victims, but they perceived a rush to judgment about Joe Paterno's role in the scandal.

Sue Paterno continues to volunteer with Special Olympics, a charity she has long championed. A new Catholic student center across the street from campus bearing her name appears near completion.

"We are so grateful to her and the entire Paterno family for their dedication, prayers, and support," the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown said in a statement. "Because of Mrs. Paterno and so many others, Catholic students at Penn State will soon have a place to call their very own."

Sue Paterno stayed mostly out of sight at a summer pep rally for the team, save for a brief appearance at a side door of Penn State's football building. Unseen by most of the dozens of fans at the early morning rally, she was there and gone — quickly.

Lawyer and former Penn State defensive back Adam Taliaferro, now a university trustee, grew close to the Paternos after suffering a serious spinal cord injury in a game against Ohio State in 2000. He said he spoke to Sue inside the football building while fans rallied outside and told the AP she was "one of the strongest women I know."

"All of us together will help her get through it," Taliaferro said. "She will always remain a huge part of the university."

Paterno started with Penn State as an assistant coach in 1950, becoming head coach in 1966.

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh's university-commissioned report in July said Paterno and three other school officials concealed allegations against Sandusky. Ten days later, the school took down the bronzed statue of Paterno outside Beaver Stadium.

Then, the NCAA announced it had accepted the findings and levied unprecedented penalties on the program including a four-year bowl ban, significant scholarship cuts and a $60 million fine. The NCAA vacated every Penn State win from 1998-2011, and Paterno was stripped of 111 career victories — meaning he no longer holds the record for most coaching wins in major college football.

Paterno, who was diagnosed with lung cancer days after his firing, was not interviewed by Freeh's team, and the family said the NCAA had not contacted the family or the family's attorney. He died in January.

The family has said university leadership and the NCAA accepted Freeh's conclusions in a rush to judgment, without due process and a questioning of the findings. They vowed after Freeh released his findings that they would conduct their own investigation, which is ongoing, McGinn said.

"They're not looking for sympathy," McGinn said when asked how the Paternos have reacted to criticism. "The family is very stoic about this. The intent is just that the complete truth comes out."

___

Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasA

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