An emotional day for Penn State assistant coach Jay Paterno

Penn State assistant coach Jay Paterno waves his father's jacket as he getsoff the team bus before the Nittany Lions took on Nebraska.
Penn State assistant coach Jay Paterno waves his father's jacket as he getsoff the team bus before the Nittany Lions took on Nebraska. (JOHN BEALE / Associated Press)
Posted: November 13, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Jay Paterno's calling his father by his first name has always seemed a little odd.

His "Dad," after all, is the primary reason he is a coach at Penn State. Perhaps to give his many critics one less reminder of how nepotism played a part in his position, Paterno has often referred to the former Nittany Lions head coach as "Joe" when talking to reporters.

But he slipped back into the son's role when an ESPN reporter grabbed the quarterbacks coach after the Lions played - and lost - Saturday in their first game in almost 62 years without Joe Paterno as part of the Penn State staff.

"Dad, I wish you were here," Jay Paterno said, his voice cracking. "We love you."

Crying, Paterno ran away from the camera and into the tunnel at Beaver Stadium.

It's been an emotional week here after former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was indicted on charges of sexually abusing eight minors. While the university honored the alleged victims in various ways - there was a touching joint prayer by Penn State and Nebraska before kickoff - there were subtle tributes played to Joe Paterno, who was fired on Wednesday in the wake of the scandal.

The fullback dive by Joe Suhey on the first play was one instance. The empty first seat on the team bus was another. And Jay Paterno's wearing one of his father's coats as he paced the sidelines was yet another.

The white coat was the one Joe Paterno wore when he passed Bear Bryant with his 324th career victory in 2001.

Jay Paterno said he didn't know it was the same one when he selected it. "It was in his closet, so I fitted it."

Paterno later admitted that wearing the coat was "a little symbolic" since he was down on the sideline and not in the coaches box for the first time in years. His father, of course, has spent less and less time pacing the sideline in recent seasons.

With wide receivers coach Mike McQueary on administrative leave, though, Penn State needed Jay Paterno to signal in plays.

"I knew it was going to be extremely emotional for him, especially when I asked him to come down on the sideline," said Tom Bradley, Penn State's interim head coach. "But I thought he did a great job."

After his father was removed as head coach, Jay Paterno said, he did not sleep Wednesday night. Early Thursday morning he drove to his father's house poised to ask his father if he should stop coaching. But it never got that far, Paterno said.

"I said to him, 'What do you think?' He goes, 'Well, you owe it to your kids, you owe it to Penn State, that's how I raised you,' " Paterno said.

He went to work the next two days and then early Saturday morning drove back over to his parents' house and dropped off a letter for Joe and Sue Paterno.

"One of the things I told him [in the letter] was, 'You know you and I, through my life, haven't always seen eye to eye, but that was because I had to catch up and make eye contact with you,' " Jay Paterno said. "There are a lot of lessons I have learned from him."

Paterno declined to express his feelings about the Penn State board of trustees' decision to remove his father or the way in which it was handled. Most likely, Saturday's game was his last one at home, as the university is sure to sweep clean the coaching staff.

Paterno was asked if he wanted to be considered a candidate to replace his father, a scenario some had speculated his father would have wanted.

"You're way ahead on that one," Paterno said. "I just want be a coach the next couple of games."

While Paterno did not occupy his father's seat on the bus trip to the stadium, he did ride with the players for the first time since becoming a coach. When he walked off the bus and into the stadium, Paterno wildly slapped hands with fans.

"Who wouldn't be upset if it was your father? I mean, I know I was upset," quarterback Matt McGloin said. "He was real upset all week, but he did a good job of setting aside football and personal things."

But when the game was finally over, Paterno addressed the camera - almost as if he was speaking to his "Dad" - and broke down.

"If he saw me break down like I did, I'm probably going to hear about it for the rest of my life," Paterno said. "So I hope he wasn't watching, I hope he doesn't see it."


Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com or @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.

 

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