The gap in mutual understanding and trust is widening between coaches and journalists, Joe Paterno, football coach at Penn State, told a conference of sports editors yesterday.

Paterno, Lefty Driesell, Maryland basketball coach, Philadelphia Eagle Coach Dick Vermeil and Ed Garvey, National Football League Players Association executive director, took part in a forum discussion at the Associated Press Sports Editors convention here. They were introduced as "the other side."

"We have reached that stage now . . . We're not all working for the same thing," Paterno said. "We don't trust you and you don't trust us."

In a 2 1/2-hour discussion centered on accessibility of coaches and athletes, the editors focused on what one called "managing the news." The coaches spoke about factually incorrect stories attributed to anonymous sources.

Vermeil, who said he has given up reading sports sections because of his sensitivity to some of the articles, called on the editors to be more critical in the evaluation of their personnel.

"If it is wrong to be the homer," he said, "then it is wrong to be subversive . . . You could be more critical in what is the individual intent of the people covering the sports. What's wrong with being a little more positive if there's something to be positive aobut.

"Be critical when there is something to be critical about. That's your job.

In a way, you have allowed people to lower the standards that some real veteran writers in here have established over a number of years . . .

"I'm not a complicated guy. If you give me an honest question, I'll give you an honest answer."

Vermeil said he is "very critical" of what the players say to the press.

"I would say that my players are probably a little leery in regard to answering questions in regard to our organization," Vermeil told the group, meeting at the Washington Hilton. "I tell tehm that if you can't answer a question from a positive nature, if you can't say something good about the team you represent or your teammates or the team you play, then don't say it all.

"If you're that unhappy, then come to me and I'll find you another place to play. Go complain in that city. It's a philosophy that I believe in. If you're going to be undermined from outside, you sure don't want to be undermined from inside."

A number of editors told the coaches that they should contact them if they believe a story is factually incorrect. Both Paterno and Vermeil said that they had never called a sports editor to complain about a story.

Both Paterno and Vermeil agreed that they would schedule a meeting or clinic between members of the media covering the team and the players so they can find a middle ground.

Garvey said that the editors should be more attuned in going to the players' associations for help in solving access problems instead of management. "I have never been approached by any one in media about access," he said. Garvey also asked the editors to strive for a better understanding of the labor and legal issues involved between management and the players.

Garvey also said he would arrange a meeting between NFL player representatives.

"I'm not exonerating our group," Paterno said at one point. "We've handled the press poorly, lied to them and told them half-truths."

Vermeil said that was the nature of the business.

"Here's something for you guys to think about. You don't do what threatens the way you make a living, and that's what I try to do with my football players.

"I'm evaluated on the performance of 45 people Sunday afternoon and so are they. Anything that detracts from my football team and win -- which is our No. 1 thing -- then I'm going to take direct action in regard to controlling it."

Vermein also said he named John Bunting as the Eagle player representative.

"John Bunting, my player rep. Hey, I put him in that positon myself -- it wasn't a team vote -- because he's intelligent and a sharp guy, not because I want him to control what I do."

Said Garvey, the union leader sitting next to Vermeil on the dais, "That's good to know."