DALLAS — Surrounded at home by energetic grandchildren on his 85th birthday, former Penn State coach Joe Paterno offered his family perspective about the turbulent two months during which he lost his job and learned he had lung cancer.
The Hall of Fame coach wasn’t dwelling on being fired over the phone following 46 seasons.
“Joe never sits around and complains about what’s happened to him,” his son, Jay, said Friday. “We’re sitting there on his birthday and he said, ‘Look, I’ve got 17 healthy grandkids, I’ve got give five healthy kids’ … Joe’s always a guy who looks at the bright side (of) everything.”
The elder Paterno was dismissed last month in the aftermath of child sex abuse charges against retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Paterno was diagnosed several days later with what his family has called a treatable form of lung cancer.
Jay Paterno, the Nittany Lions’ quarterbacks coach, said his father, who turned 85 on Dec. 21, is improving as he continues to take radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
“He’s a fighter. … He never gets down,” he said. “He fights and this is another challenge for him.”
Jay Paterno and the Nittany Lions were at a Dallas high school for a team practice Friday for the TicketCity Bowl on Monday against Houston.
Joe Paterno hasn’t spoken publicly since his firing. He has called the allegations troubling and urged the public to let the legal process unfold.
Paterno initially announced his retirement on Nov. 9, effective at the end of the season. That day, he called the scandal “one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”
The trustees fired him about 12 hours later, amid mounting criticism that school leaders should have done more to prevent the alleged abuse.
The state attorney general’s office has said Joe Paterno, who testified before a grand jury investigating Sandusky, is not a target of the probe. Sandusky is awaiting trial after pleading not guilty earlier this month.
The tense end to Paterno’s tenure has raised questions about what’s next for Happy Valley’s first family of football. Jay Paterno declined to confirm or deny reports he had interviewed for the head-coaching job.
Regardless, the younger Paterno insisted he would consider staying in State College pending the right opportunity — whether or not it was related to football.
“Let’s just say I’m not going to run for attorney general any time soon, or governor or things like that,” said the younger Paterno, who campaigned for President Barack Obama in 2008. “I’ve got to see what’s going on, sit down and talk to my wife and kids. … I don’t want to get in a situation of moving just to move.”
Staying in Happy Valley would not be difficult “once everything comes out and once everybody sees everything what’s happened, I don’t think it will be tough,” Jay Paterno said. “I think people will realize that … Joe conducted himself in a way that his consistent with his character, and we’ll see that eventually.”
When pressed, he declined to offer a timetable or more details other than saying his father was currently concentrating on fighting cancer.
Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is running the team on an interim basis as the school gets ready for its first postseason without Paterno as head coach since the 1962 Gator Bowl, a 17-7 loss to Florida. Bradley and veteran defensive line coach Larry Johnson have interviewed to replace Paterno.
“I was really tickled I had the opportunity to go in and to really express my views, my vision and my passion for what I do,” said Johnson, who, like Bradley, is one of Penn State’s top recruiters.
Among other rumored names, Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak this week denied he was interested in the job at his alma mater for the third time since his former coach was fired. Also, Green Bay quarterbacks coach Tom Clements declined comment last week when asked if he was interested in the job and would not confirm a report that he had interviewed.
Acting athletic director David Joyner said Thursday the interviews weren’t over, though he hoped to settle on a replacement within the next two weeks so the next coach could talk to recruits before high school seniors can begin to announce their college choices on Feb. 1.
Since Bradley’s interim appointment, Johnson and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden have been appointed co-defensive coordinators. Vanderlinden, a former head coach at Maryland, declined to address a question about reports he also had interviewed to replace Paterno.
“I’d just like to stay on Houston and football,” he said. “We’re just grinding away trying to stay focused (so) if it could just stay football related.”
All-American defensive tackle Devon Still was held out of practice Friday, slowly walking the sideline favoring his right leg. A team spokesman said Still had turf toe and would be fine for the bowl game.
Starting quarterback Matt McGloin suited up, stretched and tossed footballs while kneeling, though he was held out of full practice again. His availability for Monday remains unclear as he recovers from a concussion and seizure suffered following a locker room altercation Dec. 17 with receiver Curtis Drake.
Jay Paterno said backup Rob Bolden — who split time with McGloin earlier this year — likely would start with the hope that McGloin would be available in an emergency.