Mike Gross, Assistant Sports Editor of the LANCASTER (PA) SUNDAY NEWS, has another delicately-phrased, thoughtful piece wondering if Joe Paterno has the physical and mental capacity to coach Penn State this season.
(Through it all, Joe remains low maintenance)
Joe is 83. At the Big Ten Conference’s media days at the beginning of this month, he looked at least that old, very thin and inarticulate.
After struggling with slurred speech in the main media sessions there, he seemed to bounce back some in a solo interview with ESPN.
But Thursday there was no ESPN, no travel more wearying than the three-minute drive from his State College home to Beaver Stadium.
He looked and sounded much worse in person.
He is shockingly thin. Gaunt isn’t the right word only because of his burnished golden sun tan, no doubt the result of recent beach strolls at his vacation home in Avalon, N.J.
He moved and walked slowly, laboriously.
Team, position-group and coaching-staff photos are always taken at media day. That entailed Joe climbing stadium steps, and the concern on the faces of his staff as he neared the steps was obvious. He shooed away offers to help.
More specifics from Gross on Paterno’s ability to articulate his thoughts:
None of that was especially worrisome or even unusual. The problem was the mechanics (for lack of a better word) of his speech.
Words took a long, labored time getting out. There was elaborate, juicy slurring.
His head occasionally seemed overtaken by gravity, his chin dropping to his chest and his lower lip gaping open.
Then he got in his Mercedes and drove home.
Again, from the gut: Should he be driving a car?
We all recognize Paterno’s astonishing resiliency, but this appears to be the end for the coach.
My guess is that he’ll be in the press box throughout the season - or at least long enough to get his 400th victory as coach of the Nittany Lions.
From watching and listening to Paterno myself, it appears that his speech may be debilitated by some manner of medication. Regardless, he’s earned the right to “coach” the team from the press box for a season to get that 400th victory.
But barring a recuperative miracle, this season will be his last.