The Enshrinement of Joe Paterno: Coach's future remains 'The Question'

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno realizes he has put Penn State president Graham Spanier in a tough spot.

"I think Graham has been very concerned about not only Penn State football, but me," Paterno said last night prior to his enshrinement in the College Football Hall of Fame. "I think you got to give the guy his due.

"He's kind of in a dilemma and he's getting pressure from some people. And I think he's tried very hard to be fair and I want to be fair with him."

When talks between Paterno and university officials reached an impasse this spring, Spanier said Paterno would not be offered another contract when his current deal expires after this season.

Spanier also said Paterno's future with the program would be re-evaluated at the end of the year -- his 43rd as the Nittany Lions' boss.

Although there is no formal succession plan in place for Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley said there have been internal discussions.

"It's not like we haven't talked about what's going to happen here with the transition," Curley said. "Now is not the time. Our focus is on the season. When the time comes, we'll all get together and try to make the best decision possible."

Paterno, the second-winningest coach in Division I-A history, has been peppered with questions about his future since coaching his 500th game at the school in late December -- a 24-17 victory against Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl.

"Everybody wants to know what the devil I'm going to do," he said. "I'm just trying to coach. ... I don't want to be a distraction."

Paterno chuckled when asked if he expected questions about his uncertain future to subside once the regular season starts in late August.

"It depends on how things go, obviously," he said. "If we lose five games in a row, I'll probably have to answer some questions."

Paterno joined the Penn State coaching staff in 1950. He succeeded Rip Engle as coach in 1966. His teams have posted five undefeated seasons, 33 top-25 finishes and won two national championships.

Even Paterno admits he's surprised he's still walking the sideline at age 81.

"I don't think anybody in their right mind thinks you can stay in anything that long," he said. "There's a lot of things that go into it and some of it is ego, obviously. But I don't want to coach just to coach. That's not it.

"I'm embarrassed sometimes when people say, 'Oh, he's being selfish. He doesn't want to turn it over to somebody else.' That's never been in my head.

"Penn State's been good to me. I haven't spent this many years at Penn State to want to screw it up."

Paterno denied reports that he has been telling prospective recruits that his successor will come from within the program, although that is his preference.

"Nobody's been told anything," he said.

Curley would not specify whether the university would seek an internal candidate to replace Paterno or hire someone from the outside.

"It's hard to say right now," Curley said. "We just don't know what the dynamics will be at the time. So I couldn't sit here and tell you exactly which way we would lean or whatever."

Paterno was asked how long he plans to keep coaching.

"The way I feel right now -- four, five, six years," he said. "But does that mean I know what the heck I'm talking about? No. Next year I could fall down the stairs."

If Paterno does coach beyond 2008, it will be decided on a yearly basis. His wife, Sue, believes her husband will confer with her when he's thinking about stepping down.

"I'm sure we'll talk about it when it's the right time to talk about it," she said. "As soon as he says, `I'm interested in getting out,' then fine, I'll be there.

"I wouldn't want to be anybody to go after him. It won't be easy. It wasn't easy when Joe followed Rip."

Ron Musselman can be reached at .


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