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Penn State’s Paterno wants to come back next year

Jerry DiPaola

After Penn State defeated Minnesota last month, coach Joe Paterno, looking every bit of his 83 years and 10 months, slowly lowered himself into a chair for his news conference.

It had been a long day, and Paterno had just spent nearly four hours on his feet.

“Ahhh,” Paterno sighed, his voice cracking slightly, but a broad smile crawling across his face. “That chair feels good.”

And that was one of his good days.

Paterno announced Tuesday that he wants at least one more season of days — good or bad — as Penn State’s coach.

In response to a question about his future before Penn State’s final home game of the season Saturday against Michigan State, Paterno said he has every intention of returning next year for his 46th season.

“Yeah,” he said. “Do you know something I don’t know?”

Penn State is entering the final stages of a season that has had several memorable and chaotic moments — Paterno’s 400th victory, a freshman and later a former walk-on starting at quarterback, running back Evan Royster breaking the school’s all-time rushing record and the Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-3) rallying from a 3-3 start to become bowl eligible for the 37th time under their legendary coach.

Apparently, that’s not enough for Paterno.

“Now is not the time to go,” he said. “I think we have a good, young team. They may not be there yet, but they will be soon. But with a good spring and preseason practice, we can be a pretty good football team next year, and I would like to be part of it.”

Paterno said his desire to return is no guarantee that it will happen.

“I don’t think it is entirely my call,” he said. “I am not running the university. I would hope what I want to do will be taken into consideration, and (we can) go from there.”

Asked to comment, athletic director Tim Curley offered his coach no definite vote of confidence.

“We are focused on the Michigan State game and helping our seniors and the team win their final home game,” Curley said. “We’re glad to hear of coach Paterno’s excitement for next season. We share his optimism about the team’s potential and look forward to our annual postseason discussion with coach Paterno about next year.”

Paterno’s critics recently have mentioned his lack of visibility in recruiting, but he said it has nothing to do with age. He admits his celebrity makes it difficult for him to visit recruits.

“If I go into a town these days, it’s an alumni meeting,” he said. “Everybody who is teaching in the school who is a Penn State graduate or people in business, always a lot of people come around, and (there is) a lot of hoopla. Nowadays, it’s tough for me to get out of a school.”

North Allegheny coach Art Walker Jr., who has sent offensive linemen Stefen Wisniewski and Tom Ricketts to Penn State, said the consensus of opinion among recruits is that little will change at Penn State, with or without Paterno.

“A successor hasn’t been named, but it’s a pretty popular opinion that it would be (defensive coordinator) Tom Bradley, and the staff would stay pretty much the same,” Walker said.

Paterno said he hasn’t thought about retirement, and his intestinal problems during the summer weren’t as serious as others perceived them to be.

“Hopefully, the good Lord keeps me healthy, and we can come back next year,” he said.


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