Paterno toughens his Nittany Lions

Posted: August 17, 2011

STATE COLLEGE - When it comes to being a coaching taskmaster, Penn State icon Joe Paterno probably doesn't rate quite as high on the rant-o-meter as such legendary disciplinarians as Vince Lombardi and Frank Kush.

But that doesn't mean the 84-year-old JoePa is going soft on his players as he prepares the Nittany Lions for his 46th season as sideline boss. Penn State went a disappointing 7-6 in 2010 in part because of youth and in part because of injuries, but that doesn't fully explain why a couple of winnable games slipped away in crunch time.

Several Lions said at Media Day yesterday that Paterno has taken off the kid gloves and is breathing fire again as he puts them through some of the toughest paces any Penn State team has undergone in recent years.

"I went into this preseason with the idea we're going to have a tough camp," Paterno said. "I think one of the things we were not last year was tough enough for long enough in some games.

"I think that always goes back to the head coach. Maybe I wasn't demanding enough or we weren't physically tough enough. We didn't have quite the things you need to have when you're in a tough football game.

"I made up my mind we were going to have a tough spring, which we did. I told the kids, 'You better work at it this summer, because when you come back, we're going to have a tough preseason.' "

Paterno, as always, was true to his word. His players have put considerable sweat equity into the first week and a half of preseason practice, with lots of hitting.

"It's been a great squad to work with," Paterno said. "They've worked hard. They've done just about everything we've asked them to do.

"I still believe there's a place for a bunch of kids coming together, holding hands, working their tails off, developing a little camaraderie and going out and having a good time playing football."

Not that he intended it that way, but the injuries to Paterno's right shoulder, right hip and pelvis he suffered on Aug. 7 when he was run into along the sideline by wide receiver Devon Smith might have helped him get his message across.

"I talked to the squad earlier that day before I got hurt," said Paterno, who spoke to the media from a golf cart while insisting he will be stationed on the sideline for the Sept. 3 season opener against Indiana State in Beaver Stadium. "I said, 'You know what I'm tired of? Some of you guys babying yourselves. You get knocked down and get hurt a little bit and you walk around, like, 'Oh, boy, does it hurt.'

"The good Lord has a way of doing things. After my [injuries], they joked around. 'Bounce back, kid, let's see how tough you are.' "

The old master, as it turns out, is still plenty tough.

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