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Penn St. scandal shocks Barresi

Blue assistant worked with Paterno, Sandusky

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/11/2011 (3074 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

HADAS PARUSH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS archives
Jamie Barresi was an assistant coach at Penn State in the �80s and early �90s.

HADAS PARUSH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS archives Jamie Barresi was an assistant coach at Penn State in the �80s and early �90s.

LOOKING to get away from the noise Wednesday, Jamie Barresi motioned to the cramped hallway that leads from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers locker-room to the field outside.

It's been a difficult bye week for Barresi, but trying to game plan for both the Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger-Cats has only grabbed two-thirds of the Bombers offensive co-ordinator's imagination. The other third of his attention comes from the events at Penn State involving two college coaching legends, former defensive co-ordinator Jerry Sandusky and head coach Joe Paterno -- two men Barresi worked with in two separate stints with the Nittany Lions.

Paterno brought Barresi on as a graduate assistant for the 1984-85 seasons and again as the receivers coach for the 1988-92 campaigns. As one would expect, the disturbing events of the past week have yet to sink in.

"I'm shocked by everything and I'm very sad by it," the soft-spoken Barresi said. "These guys meant a lot to me. Coach Paterno and Jerry... it's so hard to believe this is happening. I've been gone from there 20 years now and whenever I talk about Penn State, I always talk about Joe and Jerry. Those are the two guys that I really admired the most as coaches, so this is a very devastating thing for me."

Following a grand jury indictment, Sandusky was arrested on 40 counts of molesting eight young boys over a 15-year period (1994-2009) last weekend. Members of the athletic department have also been charged for failing to tell the police once they were made aware of Sandusky's alleged crimes -- which includes Sandusky having sex with a 10-year-old boy in the shower at Penn State in 2002.

Though he knew about the 2002 incident, the 84-year-old Paterno has not been charged with anything.

He expressed remorse (and announced his retirement effective at the end of this year) through a statement Wednesday, saying "with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

Late Wednesday night, Penn State trustees fired Paterno and university president Graham Spanier.

Prior to the indictment, Sandusky's story was framed as one of inspiration. After realizing he and his wife wouldn't be able to have any kids of their own, he adopted six children and once he retired from coaching in 1999, Sandusky started the The Second Mile program -- a charity for at-risk youth that furthered his credibility as a top football teacher.

Sandusky was a legend at Penn State. He was allowed access to the football complex and often held his football camps on the university grounds.

Like many who worked directly or indirectly with him, though, Barresi never saw signs of inappropriate behavior.

"You'd always see him with kids at practice," he said. "They'd come in with us to the dining hall and come on trips, bowl trips and stuff like that. Never in a million years did you think something like this was going on."

As Barresi spoke Wednesday, the emotional blender he's been inside of the last few days came out through his body language. His hands keep moving, his fingers gently pressing into his palms as if he was making a lightly clenched fist. Eye contact is hard to maintain for extended stretches and the corners of his mouth shake as he talks; quivering as he delivers answers he really doesn't have the answers to.

Barresi doesn't have any children. He does have nieces and nephews, though.

"I read the deposition, the grand jury investigation (Saturday), and I couldn't sleep that night," he said. "I threw up, it was that hard for me to take. Former players called me; I talked to a lot of guys about it. (Sandusky) was revered at Penn State. I wouldn't even know who to compare it to here (in Winnipeg). He was a great coach; the type of coach I would like to be. He could get in a player's face and yell and scream at them, but then he could be their best friend. He just knew how to develop that relationship.

"He seemed genuine... it's just devastating."

Make this clear: Barresi isn't defending Sandusky or Paterno. As overwhelmed as he feels about this disturbing final chapter of two of the most important coaches in his life, it doesn't compare to the sadness he has for the alleged victims in this case.

It's just not easy, Barresi says, to watch people you respect turn out to be not what you had built up in your mind, nor is it easy to see those you idolize come crashing down in a heap of questions and embarrassment.

"I think what Coach Paterno did was the right thing; I feel badly that the people beyond him didn't take the next step and maybe he should have done something (more)," Barresi said. "I can't criticize him...it's something, I don't know...

"There are so many things he did for me tha..."

Barresi broke down and fought back the tears. The interview in the cramped hallway that leads from the Bombers locker-room to the field was done.

"I'm sorry. I just don't know..."

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @wazoowazny

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