Jay Paterno: Joe wants to tell story

Updated: January 9, 2012, 1:28 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Jay Paterno, the son of former longtime Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi that his father is "fighting like crazy" to beat lung cancer and would like to tell his side of the story that ultimately led to his firing.

[+] EnlargeJay Paterno
Rob Christy/US PresswireJay Paterno says he isn't sure how his father has been judged in the court of public opinion.

"He's doing well because of the fact he's in great spirits," Jay Paterno said in a wide-ranging interview. "Anytime you have this kind of fight on your hands, you have to have a fighting spirit, which Joe has always had. And he's fighting like crazy. But it takes some, takes some energy out of him like it does anybody else. I mean, he said to me, 'I get tired from time to time.'

"He's very anxious to get out there soon and start to tell his side of the story and start to express -- get all the facts out," Jay Paterno said. "What that timetable is I don't know exactly. But he definitely is chomping at the bit."

Paterno told Rinaldi that he wants Penn State fans, alumni and supporters to back new coach Bill O'Brien, who was officially hired on Saturday.

He told Rinaldi that he and his father -- who issued a statement congratulating O'Brien and noting that the two both graduated from the same school, Brown -- know O'Brien faces unique challenges in replacing a man who won 409 games in 46 years at Penn State.

"I don't think anybody knows really what the guy that follows Joe Paterno is going to face," Paterno said. "Nobody knows that. You're not replacing Joe Paterno. You've become the head coach at Penn State. And the most important thing is that you don't try and live up to something instead of -- of a person. You try and just carry on the goals and the values and the things that have always been a part of this program, and I think that's the only challenge you have to worry about."

Joe Paterno's cancer diagnosis was revealed on Nov. 18, nine days after he was fired by Penn State in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal that has resulted in 52 counts of child molestation against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

Last month, Sandusky waived his preliminary hearing. His next court appearance is a March 22 pretrial conference. Sandusky has maintained his innocence and is under house arrest after posting $250,000 bail.

In addition, former athletic director Tim Curley and a school vice president, Gary Schultz, face trial for charges of perjury and failing to report suspected child abuse and have left the school. Penn State president Graham Spanier was also fired on Nov. 9, along with Joe Paterno.

Jay Paterno said he isn't sure how his father has been judged in the court of public opinion.

"I can't really say how he would feel about it," Jay Paterno said. "But I think what has happened, it has almost been a runaway train -- as it has impacted Joe Paterno, as it has impacted Penn State, as it has impacted Penn State football."

Paterno said he wouldn't have wanted to be in the shoes of the Penn State Board of Trustees when they made the decision to let his father go. But he did wish officials had been more deliberate.

"I think the most important thing, when you look at some of the things that have happened in the past, whether it be Duke lacrosse, whether it be Richard Jewell in Atlanta, I think there has to be some time for facts to come out," Paterno said. "And whether -- they may have had facts. I don't know what they had, so I don't know what message I could've delivered to them based on I don't know what information they had. "

I think the most important thing, when you look at some of the things that have happened in the past, whether it be Duke lacrosse, whether it be Richard Jewell in Atlanta, I think there has to be some time for facts to come out. And whether -- they may have had facts.

-- Jay Paterno, on the Penn State trustees' decision to fire his father

Paterno said he didn't know what he would say if he saw Sandusky, other than to support Sandusky's son, E.J.

"I don't know, I couldn't even pretend to say I know exactly what I would say," he said.

Asked what he believed about Sandusky's claim of innocence, Paterno said: "I don't believe anything yet. I think it's the responsibility of us as Americans to wait for due process to happen, to let the facts to come out."

But Paterno did mention Sandusky's accusers, saying his father would want their plight to be remembered, too.

"I think one of the things that Joe has stressed to us throughout this whole time is, 'Yeah, I'm going through some tough things, but there's a lot of other things going on over the last couple months. And there's some victims out there that we need to keep in our thoughts,' " Paterno said. "And he stressed that to us a bunch of times."

Paterno doesn't know where his next job will be. O'Brien said he will interview every member of the Penn State coaching staff over the next few days. If he is not retained, Paterno doesn't know what his future is. He said he would discuss it with his wife to see if there is a future in coaching.

"It's been a roller-coaster ride, with a lot of dips and a lot of ups and a lot of downs," Jay Paterno said of the days since his father was fired. Citing Arthur Miller's book "The Crucible," he talked about the impact of the situation on his family's name.

"I think about the fact that, after 61 years, people can try and take that away," he said. "And that's probably been the thing that's really stuck me the most, because (Joe Paterno) lived his life in a way that does honor to the name that his father gave him."