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Paterno struggles to regulate player behavior

| Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2008

Penn State's disciplinary-case-of-the-moment dominated the early part of coach Joe Paterno's weekly news conference Tuesday, an all-too-frequent occurrence for a football program in recent years.

Three players -- backup tight end Andrew Quarless, and starting defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma -- were suspended for the game Saturday with Oregon State. A search of the apartment they share produced a small amount of marijuana, police said.

Last Thursday, Paterno announced the suspensions, plus the dismissal of backup cornerback Willie Harriott for another incident. Quarless dressed for the game but did not play.

"I think he looked good in a uniform," Paterno said of Quarless.

Paterno was equally evasive on the status of Evans and Koroma.

"There are circumstances involved with this which I can't get really get into," he said. "And I don't want to get into it. So, I'm just trying to wait until I get this thing straightened out and then we'll see what happens. So, as far as whether the other kids are going to play or not, I'm going to play it day-by-day for a while."

The incidents come on the heels of an ESPN's report in July that detailed since 2002, 46 players faced criminal charges and 27 either pleaded guilty or were convicted. The latest incidents have revived discussion of Paterno's control of the program.

Penn State president Dr. Graham Spanier, who prefers to conduct interviews through e-mail, gave Paterno, 81, a vote of confidence.

Responding to an inquiry from the Tribune-Review, Spanier wrote, "I support Coach Paterno's disciplinary actions against members of the football team who not only broke team rules but also violated the expectations that Penn State has for its student athletes."

Spanier said he and Paterno "spoke briefly about the situation last week."

Paterno provided some details.

"We have a Quarterback Club luncheon every Wednesday, and last Wednesday ... Dr. Spanier came to it and as we were walking out with other people, he said, 'Are you OK with everything?' and I said, 'Yeah.'

"He said, 'That's a shame (the situation).' I said, 'Oh, I think we'll be OK.'

"That was it. I mean, that's what I recollect," Paterno said. "But he's always been supportive of me. He's never stepped in and said, 'Hey, I want (you) to do that. I want to do that.' He's been very supportive of what I've done."

Spanier and Paterno, whose contract expires after this season, will meet after the year to discuss the coach's future. That has led to speculation about how these ongoing disciplinary problems will factor into those discussions.

Spanier was asked if the program's image has been harmed by the latest incidents and the ESPN report.

"Our program continues to be highly regarded," he said. "And we will do everything we can to continue to promote our values."

But Spanier was vague when asked whether he considers the disciplinary problems a short-term or long-term phenomenon.

"I don't know," Spanier replied.

The Penn State situation is being followed closely.

"It doesn't look good, and perception is reality, especially in this kind of situation," said senior writer Dennis Dodd of CBSSports. com, who covers college football. "I told people on the radio, to me, in college now, marijuana is like beer was to me. I know it's illegal, but let's not be stupid.

"This isolated situation doesn't sound that bad. The question is, should it be lumped in with the other stuff. It's like a creek that's overflowing. It's about to flood and it rains a little more and it goes over the banks. That's where it's at now. It's not fair, but you lump it in because there are so many."

Ivan Maisel, senior writer for, believes Paterno's age makes him a target.

"If this were happening to a 60-year-old coach, nobody would be asking the kind of questions they're asking, or as loudly or as insistently," Maisel said. "That's part of the turf when you were born during the Coolidge administration."

As for Paterno's legacy, Maisel sees no harm.

"It might be a paragraph in his obit," he said. "This is just a belch in a windstorm."

Terry Bowden, the former coach at Auburn, current radio analyst and Yahoo sports columnist and son of Florida State's Bobby Bowden, is following the Paterno story closely.

"It's amazing the parallels of the two situations," he said

Paterno and Bobby Bowden share the all-time lead in major college wins with 374. Both programs have been roiled by disciplinary problems.

"The bottom line has nothing to do with the number of players who got in trouble or discipline problems." Terry Bowden said. "Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden may or may not run programs exactly like when they were 40 years old, but they do run it virtually the same as 15 years ago, when they were winning championships. This is all about two guys who are older and many people feel their best days are behind them and it's time to retire."

Additional Information:

A litany of problems

Sept. 4: Joe Paterno announces on his radio show the dismissal of backup defensive back Willie Harriott for what later is revealed to be an arrest for driving without a license, and the suspensions of starting defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma, and backup tight end Andrew Quarless. The action comes after a police search of their apartment produces a small amount of marijuana.

July 30: Defensive tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor are dismissed for unspecified reasons.

April 7: Police charge wide receiver Chris Bell with threatening teammate Devon Still with a knife at dinner. Bell is dismissed from the team.

March 6: Police charge Quarless with drunken driving after a traffic stop four days earlier. He is suspended until preseason practice begins.

Nov. 11, 2007: Harriott is charged with drunken driving. He is suspended for the Alamo Bowl.

October 2007: Running back Austin Scott is suspended after an arrest on sexual assault charges. Prosecutors drop the charges six months later.

Oct. 7, 2007: A fight at the school's student union results in charges against Baker, Taylor, linebacker Navorro Bowman and defensive back Knowledge Timmons. All are suspended from the team. Taylor and Bowman plead guilty to disorderly conduct in May and are ordered to perform 100 hours of community service, pay $586 to the victim and $200 to Penn State. Timmons is placed on probation for one year in lieu of trial. Taylor is sentenced to one year probation and 100 hours of community service. Baker is ordered to serve two years probation for this offense and an April 1, 2007, incident.

Oct. 5, 7, 2007: Running back Joe Suhey and punter Ryan Breen are cited for underage drinking in separate incidents.

Aug. 17, 2007: Quarless and Harriott are cited for underage drinking and suspended for two games.

April 1, 2007: An incident at an off-campus apartment results in criminal charges against safety Anthony Scirrotto, Baker and four others. Charges are dismissed against the other four players. Scirrotto pleads guilty to defiant trespass, pays a $500 fine and must serve a year of probation.

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