At Penn State, one more chance to remember JoePa

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At Penn State, one more chance to remember JoePa

From Comcast SportsNetSTATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- The man in the white dress shirt, Penn State tie and rolled-up khakis jogged through the Beaver Stadium tunnel and on to the field before slowing down at the finish line -- the 50-yard-line.It was alumnus Gus Curtin's tribute to the iconic look once sported in the same stadium on fall weekends by the late coach Joe Paterno.A weekend during which the annual Blue-White spring game gave fans a glimpse into the Nittany Lions' future under new coach Bill O'Brien also allowed people like Curtin to remember the past. From the bouquets of blue-and-white carnations left at the bronzed Paterno statue outside the stadium to the charity 5K race run in Paterno's honor Sunday, fans paid tribute to the Hall of Fame coach who died in January at age 85."It's nice to know that the support and the love is all there, because all the people who love and support ... he's been a part of them for so many years," Paterno's widow, Sue Paterno, said before the race Sunday. "They're feeling a loss like we're feeling a loss. Our (loss) is maybe more acute."The spring football game marked the first event at the stadium since her husband's death. Many alumni still question the circumstances behind Paterno's ouster last November by university trustees in the aftermath of child sexual abuse charges against Jerry Sandusky.The retired defensive coordinator has maintained his innocence and awaits trial. Paterno testified before a grand jury investigating Sandusky that he relayed a 2002 allegation brought to him by a graduate assistant to his campus superiors, including the administrator overseeing the police department.Authorities have said Paterno wasn't a target of the probe. The Board of Trustees ousted him, citing in part a moral obligation to do more to alert authorities outside the school, and a "failure of leadership."Last week, Penn State agreed to provide millions in payments and benefits to Paterno's estate and family members under the late football coach's employment contract, although a family lawyer says the Paternos did not sign away their right to sue.But unless the subject came up in conversation, there were no outward displays by fans of protest against school administrators or trustees over the weekend. Fans were eager to see what the team looked like under O'Brien."It seems like he's genuinely excited to do new things and to put a good team out there, but he's also respectful of tradition," said Curtin, 39, of Annapolis, Md. "So far I like him."Inside the stadium, there were no apparent mentions during the spring game of Paterno's name over the sound system. No images of Paterno were seen on video boards.Like Curtin, dozens of alumni, students and other spectators wore attire that offered some kind of reminder of Paterno.Some people donned "Joe Knows Football" T-shirts, a play off the old Nike ad campaign slogan featuring Bo Jackson.Others wore T-shirts or sweatshirts that read "Team Paterno" on the front and "Make an Impact" on the back -- the latter phrase referencing a command from Joe Paterno's father, Angelo, to his son.The "Team Paterno" shirts were a gift to some donors for the cause of Sunday's race, Special Olympics of Pennsylvania, a charity long championed by Sue Paterno."We were in it together," Sue Paterno said when asked about the "Team Paterno" phrase. "I said, I help you all the time. Now you help me.' He got hooked ... It turned out to be a real good tagline this year."The charity said Sunday it hoped to raise nearly 300,000 from the race, which would triple the amount it raised last year."I'm 55 years-old, and I've never known another coach here," Rich Ellers, a lifelong season-ticket holder from Centre Hall, said Saturday at the Paterno statue. "His spirit will live on. He'll never be gone in that sense."The statue served as a gathering point for mourners after Paterno died, and visitors returned to the site in droves again this weekend. One effort organized by alumni left 409 bouquets of the blue-and-white carnations at the site -- one for each of Paterno's Division I-record career victories."Obviously I miss Joe," 2011 Penn State graduate Erin Davis said at the statue. "He's like a grandfather to this university."The small cemetery in State College where Paterno is buried has seen increased visitors since his death. Many well-wishers have left flowers there, too, and Penn State hats. Police say some mourners have held candlelight vigils. A family spokesman and police say there have been no major problems, though the cemetery last week decided to start closing at dusk.The Paterno family is planning to start a "Paterno Foundation" charity, from which sales of a DVD of the Jan. 26 memorial service for Paterno are being sold. The family has said proceeds will go to Special Olympics.Sue Paterno said she no plans to leave the modest ranch home in town where she and her husband raised their family. She plans to continue helping Special Olympics, including the state Summer Games held on the Penn State campus each year."Absolutely, they're my people," she said about working Special Olympians. "They become your buddies. This gives you a bigger family."Sue Paterno also offered backing to her husband's successor, the 42-year-old O'Brien. She called Penn State a "magic place.""The guy has got a job to do, and we've got to support him," Sue Paterno said. "Joe was in that position at one time, a little bit younger. But I hope (the O'Briens) love it here as much as we did."

Pat Fitzgerald looked super happy to be swinging Babe Ruth's bat at Yankee Stadium

Pat Fitzgerald looked super happy to be swinging Babe Ruth's bat at Yankee Stadium

Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald was back at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night.

And while he likely wasn't as happy as he was after his Wildcats claimed victory in the Pinstripe Bowl back in December, Fitzgerald still looked pretty elated before the game, when he got to test drive Babe Ruth's bat and Derek Jeter's jersey at the Yankees' museum.

Take a look:

That's an understandable reaction for any sports fan.

It was an eventful night for Fitzgerald, who after interacting with those legendary pieces of sports memorabilia got to chat it up with Yankees manager — and Northwestern alum — Joe Girardi and throw a ceremonial first pitch to the Bronx Bombers' skipper.

How Nelson Rodriguez views the Fire's player development

How Nelson Rodriguez views the Fire's player development

Player development is one of the evergreen topics in American soccer.

Participation numbers and interest in the sport are not problems, but talent at the top level still lags behind the top countries in the world. Therefore, for several years, a missing link has been player development.

Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez has shaken a few things up at the club in that regard. During Rodriguez’s tenure, which is still less than two years old, he has hired a new academy director (Cedric Cattenoy), changed USL affiliates (St. Louis to Tulsa) and seen the club lose its PDL team.

Rodriguez addressed each topic when talking with reporters on Tuesday.

Rodriguez began the hour-long Q&A session by mentioning the Fire Juniors program as a feeder system into the academy and highlighting the fact that seven academy players have been called into national team camps this year. He name-dropped 16-year-old Nicholas Slonina, an Addison product who was with U.S. Soccer’s residency program in Bradenton, Fla.

“I think as we look at the academy right now, we see at our younger age levels, we feel we have at least a half dozen very promising players,” Rodriguez said. “Now they have to go through puberty, they have to continue to develop, but at the moment… I feel that our younger age groups have some really talented players.”

Mauricio Pineda, a homegrown prospect who completed his freshman season at North Carolina in the fall, is currently training with the Fire. Coach Veljko Paunovic stayed after training on Tuesday to work more with Pineda. Pineda is one of a few Fire prospects who could sign next winter, but Rodriguez said not to expect any to sign before then.

“Our approach to signing homegrown guys is one where we put a lot of responsibility on the family,” Rodriguez said. “What do they want? What might they prefer? I also believe that there are a lot of college soccer environments that are very, very good and that guys can still get better in college. I know that’s counter to just about what everyone else thinks.

“We’ve got a fair number of players at Indiana University and I think coach Todd Yeagley and his staff do a great job there. I think whenever those young men are ready to come out and if we can reach agreement, they’ll be well prepared for us. Whether that’s early or after their senior year.”

Defenders Grant Lillard and Andrew Gutman are two Fire prospects at Indiana. Lillard is heading into his senior year in the fall while Gutman will be a junior.

Rodriguez also referenced North Carolina and Michigan State as schools where the Fire have prospects. In addition to Pineda, Cameron Lindley also completed his freshman year at UNC and received a number of honors and awards from his first college season. At Michigan State, Ryan Sierakowski is a Fire academy product who was first-team All-Big Ten as a sophomore after scoring nine goals and tallying five assists.

In past years, some of these prospects would play for the Fire’s PDL (Premier Development League) team. The PDL serves as a summer league for college players. Last year, then Fire assistant coach Logan Pause led that group and Lillard, Gutman, Pineda and Lindley were on that team. The Fire do not have a PDL team this year.

“My opinion, the PDL system was not conducive to good player development,” Rodriguez said. “There were too many games in too short of a period, not enough training, not enough rest. Very similar to truncated college seasons.”

He doesn’t think there is a missing link in the Fire’s player development pipeline now without a PDL team.

“I’m not worried that there’s a gap because the reality is guys like Mauricio Pineda and other guys we invite, if they accept, can train with our first team in the summer,” Rodriguez said. “Now the gap would be games, but our staff is good about intrasquad and if we could find games for them through arranging them with an outside opponent, we would. A few more games would help, but I’ll sacrifice that for those players having an experience with Juninho and Dax (McCarty) and Nemanja (Nikolic) and Basti (Schweinsteiger) and Arturo (Alvarez) and Pauno. I think that’s a better learning environment for them.”

[RELATED: Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez preaches modesty amid team's positive start]

The next step in the pipeline is the USL. The minor professional league has become more entwined with MLS as a development tool for young pros in the past few years.

Last year, the Fire were affiliated with Saint Louis FC, but Rodriguez had said things didn’t go as they hoped. This year, he said positive things about new affiliate Tulsa and coach David Vaudreuil while staying firm in his belief that the Fire don’t need to control its own USL team.

Joey Calistri made 14 appearances with the Fire last year as a rookie and scored a goal. This season he is on loan with Tulsa, where he has played in all eight matches, started seven and has four goals and an assist. Collin Fernandez and Matej Dekovic have also been with Tulsa all season.

“I think things with Tulsa have been fantastic,” Rodriguez said. “Our guys are having good experiences. Joey Calistri is really doing well, he is really playing well… I think this extended playing time has been very good for him. He’s proven to be what he was in our academy and what he was at Northwestern, which is a guy who finds a way to score goals and menace defenses.

“Collin Fernandez has also benefitted. The last couple weeks he’s been in and out with still a bit of a hamstring strain, but what’s been good about Tulsa is they saw, and David Vaudreuil saw, Collin in a way that we didn’t so he’s played more as an eight (box-to-box midfielder), which is something that we hadn’t considered, and he’s done well. So it’s made us rethink how we look at Collin, so that’s been good. Matej Dekovic has a little bit of a back flair up, so he hasn’t played as many minutes.”

Rodriguez added that rookies Brandt Bronico and Stefan Cleveland will head to Tulsa after the Fire’s game against Dallas on Thursday for a short-term loan.

“All it’s done is reaffirm that if you have a good partner and have open dialogue, you don’t need your own USL team,” Rodriguez said. “We feel really good about what’s happening with the development of the players that we’ve sent there.”