Paterno's status becomes year-to-year deal

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"We are in agreement that a contract would have little practicality ..."

Graham Spanier, Penn State president in an e-mail

Penn State coach Joe Paterno won't sign another formal contract with the university.

President Graham Spanier said yesterday that if Paterno continues beyond the final year of his contract this season, he would do so with a handshake.

"We are in agreement that a contract would have little practicality, given coach Paterno's seniority," Spanier wrote in an e-mail. "None of us see that as necessary. Our preference is to continue to review the status of the program on an annual basis, and we will next do so at the conclusion of the 2008 season."

Paterno, 81, has worked without a contract in the past. He signed his current four-year extension in May of 2004, despite suffering through three losing seasons in the previous four years.

Paterno is entering his 43rd season as the Nittany Lions' boss. He is the second-winningest coach in Division I history, trailing only Florida State's Bobby Bowden.

Paterno joked with reporters late last month that he would like to coach "another 10 years." He later added: "If I've got to have a contract to keep my job here, I'm in the wrong place."

Two members of Penn State's Board of Trustees, however, told the Post-Gazette that the university had been trying to get Paterno to set a timetable for his retirement, agree to a succession plan or risk getting pushed out.

Paterno dug in his cleats.

Now the two sides appear to have reached an agreement that could allow Paterno -- who has no agent -- to coach another year or two after the 2008 season, as long as both sides agree to it.

"This is what you would expect from Penn State -- for the situation to be handled in this manner," Guido D'Elia, director of communications and branding of football, said last night. "I think this kind of arrangement is fairly unique to college football."

Spanier said he and athletic director Tim Curley have met twice with Paterno in the last month to discuss his future. A succession plan also was discussed.

"The three of us are very mindful of the importance of a smooth transition, and we are very confident that will occur when we reach that point," Spanier said. "We acknowledge and respect that other institutions have recently announced different succession plans, but we feel that each university must evaluate its own approach.

"We will be prepared when the time comes, and, of course, we will identify someone who would continue Penn State's values and traditions, pursuing success in a way that makes us all proud, while extending the great reputation we enjoy nationally."

At the end of last season, Florida State appointed offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher as the eventual successor to Bowden, 78. Earlier this year, Purdue announced that associate head coach Danny Hope would take over for Joe Tiller, 65, as coach after the 2008 season.

Paterno hasn't publicly endorsed his successor, but he said two weeks ago he would prefer it be one of his current assistant coaches.

"Whether that's in the cards, I don't know right now," he said. "It depends on when I get out of it. If I'm going to leave tomorrow, I would hope that it's in the cards, but I'm not planning on leaving tomorrow."

Spanier said he doesn't expect any further developments regarding Paterno's future in the coming months.

"I support our coaches and players as they turn their attention to preparation for the 2008 season and I look forward to an exciting fall of football," he said.

Ron Musselman can be reached at .


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