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Paterno Won't Like the Official Version

Referees seek sanctions against Penn State coach, whose criticism, one says, has 'gotten out of hand.'

November 15, 2002|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

The effigy, a football official holding a yellow flag, has been removed from Joe Paterno's front door, but the season-long controversy between the Penn State football coach and Big Ten Conference officials remains on his doorstep.

A Big Ten game official said Thursday that the 57-member Big Ten Football Officials Assn. had asked supervisor Dave Parry to urge conference Commissioner Jim Delany to discipline Paterno for a string of acts and comments critical of officials.

"I like Joe, but there is a concern among the officials about him, [that] he's never been so abusive or critical in public," said the official, who requested anonymity. "The concern with him is that we don't want to see him end up like Woody Hayes. I'd hate to see that, especially for a guy who's accomplished so much."

Hayes, the legendary Ohio State coach, was fired after he'd punched a Clemson player during the 1978 Gator Bowl.

The official said that although no one in his association believed it was Paterno who'd strung up the doll from the front door knocker of the Paterno home, he did express disappointment at how the 75-year-old Paterno ducked the issue during his Tuesday news conference.

After first telling reporters at Penn State, "Let's not get into it," Paterno was pressed about the matter and said, "I don't even know if I have a door knocker. I never use the front door. I go in through the garage."

Barry Mano, president of the board of directors of the National Assn. of Sports Officials and publisher of Referee magazine, said, "[Paterno's] reaction has added some fuel to this situation. This was an opportunity for Paterno to disavow what happened. There are respectful relationships between Paterno and some officials in the Big Ten. Among those who respect him, their previous image of him is gone."

The tension between Paterno and officials began during Penn State's 42-35 overtime loss to Iowa on Sept. 28. Disputing two calls he contended were bad, Paterno ran to grab the back of official Dick Honig's shirt after the game and pointed out the alleged miscues.

"In reality, it wasn't all that much," said the Big Ten official. "In perception, it became a national issue, because you just can't do that."

Paterno's uncharacteristic behavior has resulted in criticism nationally by college football observers who have described his actions as beneath a man with 334 victories, two national championships and 37 seasons at a respected institution.

Officials were also subjected to Paterno's public criticism after Penn State's losses at Michigan on Oct. 12, 27-24 in overtime, and at Ohio State on Oct. 26, 13-7. He argued that a call had deprived the Nittany Lions of trying a potential winning field goal against Michigan, and that a final drive against Ohio State had stalled when an official missed calling an obvious pass-interference violation. Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley has requested a review of Big Ten officiating procedures.

Instead of being in the national championship chase, Penn State (7-3) is tied for fourth in the Big Ten and is ranked 16th in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.

What is driving Paterno's complaints is a source of debate. Is he too defensive, in the wake of speculation that he had "lost it" as a coach after consecutive losing seasons in 2000 and 2001? Does he believe he has carte blanche to criticize, especially after Delany acknowledged that a coach of Paterno's stature merits preferential treatment? Is the officiating truly bad?

"Things have gotten out of hand with Joe," the Big Ten official said. "When you don't issue a statement on these things, even though the things he's done have been shown and reported all over the country, that silence doesn't help a thing. They're now having a harder time with other coaches being critical because they haven't done anything with Joe."

Delany was not available for comment Thursday and a conference spokesman said he had no comment about the hanging doll. A source familiar with the conference said the doll episode had led Delany to take possible discipline of Paterno "under advisement."

Jeff Nelson, a Penn State football spokesman, said neither Paterno nor others in the football offices had expressed concern about receiving punishment from the Big Ten. Nelson added that Paterno hadn't mentioned when, or if, he intended to identify the person who hung the doll.

Paterno's situation has caught the attention of those in other conferences. The Mountain West Conference, for instance, ordered Utah Coach Ron McBride to apologize to a Pacific 10 Conference official after McBride had criticized the officiating when his team lost to Arizona in September.

McBride said Thursday, "It's no good to criticize officials, you should just go play."

He added, however, "I don't think Paterno would be a guy to complain unless he had a legitimate complaint. Maybe they'll listen to him. Maybe they'll get it squared away."

Big Sky Conference Commissioner Doug Fullerton said his conference had written, unyielding rules on public criticism of officials that have resulted in two one-game suspensions for coaches, most recently Sacramento State's John Volek last week.

"I can't speak for the Big Ten, but I know what the Big Sky would have done with this," Fullerton said.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Smarter Than the Average Joe

Winningest major-college football coaches (*-active):

*--* Coach Seasons W L T Pct 1 Joe Paterno* 37 334 100 3 769 2 Bobby Bowden* 37 330 94 4 776 3 Bear Bryant 38 323 85 17 780 4 Pop Warner 44 319 106 32 733 5 Amos Alonzo Stagg 57 314 199 35 605 6 LaVell Edwards 29 257 101 3 722 7 Tom Osborne 25 255 49 3 836 8 Woody Hayes 33 238 72 10 759 Lou Holtz* 31 238 118 7 665 10 Bo Schembechler 27 234 65 8 775

*--*

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