Meyer: Not the Paterno I knew

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Last updated: 07/27/2012 3:36 AM

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Football
Meyer: That’s Not the Paterno I Knew

By Brandon Castel

CHICAGO — Urban Meyer is right where he wants to be.

Back in football and back in the Big Ten, where he began his career as a graduate assistant 26 years ago.

Urban Meyer
Photo by Jim Davidson
Urban Meyer

Wearing a sharp gray jacket with a scarlet striped tie, Meyer stepped to the podium Thursday as the new head football coach at The Ohio State University. He was quick to reiterate he would not have come out of his year-long retirement from football for any other program besides the one in Columbus.

That doesn’t mean he was unmoved by the tragic events that have unfolded in State College over the last 6-8 months.

“I’ve always had great respect for Penn State,” Meyer said Thursday at his first-ever Big Ten Media Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago.

“I would never disparage a school. I have great respect for the way they’re handling this situation.”

The 48-year old Meyer also had a great respect for former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno. That was before the Jerry Sandusky trial and the subsequent Freeh report that has led to unprecedented NCAA sanctions at one of the Big Ten’s most historic programs.

“I had an incredible relationship with Joe Paterno and his family,” Meyer said shaking his head, a pained look on his face.

“That was not the Joe Paterno that I knew. What I read, that was not…I’ll just leave it at that.”

Not many people knew that side of Paterno, the side that would look the other way while a monster like Sandusky was allowed to carry out his ghastly acts with impunity right in the heart of Penn State football.

That side of Paterno has been hard for almost everyone to grasp, especially those who knew him as a part the coaching community.

“One of the comments that still holds true to me is, ‘I wish I would have done more,’” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said Thursday.

“What I’m going to remember coach Paterno for is that if I could get five minutes with him at these meetings. I’ll cherish forever the opportunity to have six midfield handshakes with him. To actually compete against a guy I watched as a 10-year old on my parents' couch at the highest level. That’s what I’ll remember.”

Bielema remembers Paterno as an outspoken man who “always spoke the truth” at Big Ten meetings throughout the years, but that’s not the picture of Penn State’s legendary coach that was painted in the Freeh report.

“I knew this question was going to come up and I tried to do a little bit of research, but I can’t get past the victims,” Meyer said.

“Every time I try to read it, I can’t get past the victims. That’s where my thoughts and prayers are every night. My gosh, so I have a hard time getting past that.”

Before he landed in Columbus, Meyer was rumored to be interested in the job at Penn State, assuming Paterno was finally in his last season leading the Nittany Lions. While he spent the last six seasons in the SEC, Meyer is a Big Ten guy.

He was born in Cleveland and played at Cincinnati. He coached under Earle Bruce at Ohio State and Lou Holtz at Notre Dame. At Ohio State, he is in the unique position to share some experiences with Penn State’s current head coach.

“Number one is a recruiting issue that Penn State will deal with that we had to deal with in December. However, one thing that it also does you find out who wants to be a Ohio State Buckeye,” Meyer said of Ohio State getting his with a bowl ban.

“And I don't want to speak for Coach O'Brien but he's going to find out who exactly wants to be on his team. There's not going to be half‑ins anymore.”

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