Print and Go Back ESPN.com: College Football [Print without images]

Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Paterno: Trouble on and off field make for tough year

ESPN

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State has lost four in a row for the second time in three years. The tougher number for Joe Paterno to deal with has been the off-the-field problems of some of his players.

It has added up to what he called the toughest season in his 54-year coaching career.

"There isn't a question about that," Paterno said Tuesday. "I haven't been around a 2-and-6 football team for 60 years. When I was a junior in high school, we were 2-and-6 -- we ended up being 2-and-7, I think. The next year, we ended up winning all but one.

"It's tough," Paterno said. "But what are you going to do about it? I can go home and cry, or I can come out of the closet fighting."

In some cases, he's even had to fight his own team. Paterno announced Tuesday that Tony Johnson, the team's leading wide receiver, would remain suspended for this week's game against No. 8 Ohio State, and that offensive lineman Tom McHugh had been dismissed from the team.

Johnson was arrested Oct. 17 on a drunken driving charge; McHugh was issued citations early Sunday morning for harassment, public drunkenness and underaged drinking after he allegedly slapped a woman in the face.

"It's kind of sad," lineman Charles Rush said. "I've known Tommy. Tommy's in my class. We're really good friends, and he's definitely going to be missed on the team."

Paterno said it was a difficult decision -- McHugh's uncle had played for Paterno, and he's known the family for 30 years. But Paterno said he had little choice when McHugh's citations came just hours after he had warned the players to watch their behavior.

"Tommy did a dumb thing. He did it after I had talked to the squad, on the plane, 'Everybody behave,' and the whole bit, and he didn't. And he's got to suffer the consequences," Paterno said. "And I think somewhere along the line the squad has to understand that there's responsibility, and obviously we have some kids that have skirted it here and skirted it there."

It's been a particularly troublesome year for the Nittany Lions.

Anwar Phillips was acquitted on a sexual assault charge just days before Penn State's opening game; lineman E.Z. Smith was cited twice in one week for underage drinking; punter Jeremy Kapinos entered a youth-offender program on an alcohol charge; defensive lineman Scott Paxson pleaded guilty to a summary charge of criminal mischief after campus police said they saw him riding a stolen bicycle; and linebacker Dethrell Garcia was charged with DUI last week, shortly after he quit the team.

But despite the continued off-field problems, Rush said they were not affecting the team.

Paterno agreed.

"I think it's had more of an impact on me, personally," Paterno said. "I've had a tough time convincing people that I'm not dealing with inanimate objects. I'm dealing with people whose parents I know, whose homes I've been in, people who've trusted their kids to me, and I'm almost like a surrogate father. Every time you take an action it's like taking an action against your own kid.

"I still like my team," Paterno said. "I'm disappointed in some things that have happened, ... but overall, we've been competitive in every game. It's not a question that we quit, died, that we've been overpowered. In the last couple years, every game we've been in we've been competitive. We've got a challenge, no question about it, but that doesn't bother me. I've never been a guy that wanted to back away from a fight."