UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno opened his news conference Thursday with a request.
"Please don't ask me if I'm gonna die," Paterno said, drawing laughter from reporters during the team's annual media day at Beaver Stadium. "Believe me, I got a few more days left."
Paterno, four months shy of his 84th birthday, is preparing for his 45th season on the sideline.
He was slowed for a good part of the summer by intestinal problems and is noticeably thinner.
Paterno, the winningest coach in Division I-A history with 394 victories, admits he isn't the same hands-on coach he used to be. He is delegating more authority to his assistant coaches.
"Somebody asked me earlier, 'Are [my assistants] carrying me? Yeah, they probably are carrying me,' " Paterno said. "I don't coach on the field as much as I used to.
"In the old days, I used to grab a couple of kids and shove them around a little bit. There's two things wrong with that. No. 1, I don't want to get [fired] like [Mike Leach] at Texas Tech.
"Secondly, I prefer to wait, get [the assistants] in a meeting and say, 'Hey, I don't like what we're doing here. I don't like the way you handled that kid.' I try to stick my two cents in."
Paterno has done little recruiting in recent years. His last in-home visit was in January 2008 when he went to Jeannette High School to see the country's No. 1 prospect, Terrelle Pryor, who later chose Ohio State.
This season, Paterno, whose program has just four verbal commitments for the Class of 2011, plans to scale back on his weekly appearances on the "Nittany Lion Hotline" radio call-in show.
"The Thursday night show is a tough show for me because of the fact that you got to come right off the field and go into that radio show," he said. "That's always been a problem for me because of the fact that I go in there -- you guys have seen me -- and if we have a lousy practice, somebody wants to ask me about it. I feel like telling them, 'Go jump in a lake.'
"It's a pain in the rear end. I want to get home. I want to start doodling [plays on paper]. I want to figure out what we didn't get done, maybe figure out a couple things for the game on Saturday. It's really annoying, which is probably not the best way to put it.
"I don't like it. I don't get paid a lot of money."
Paterno has made regular visits to the State College Quarterback Club luncheons on Wednesdays through the years and conducts a taped pregame show.
"Not a lot of coaches do all those things," he said. "I feel obligated to do some of the radio [shows], obligated to do the Quarterback Club. Whether I'm gonna to do it every week, I'm not sure."
On the field, Paterno's Nittany Lions opened the year ranked No. 14 in the coaches' preseason poll. They will face three top-10 teams on the road -- No. 1 Alabama (Sept. 11), No. 2 Ohio State (Nov. 13) and No. 10 Iowa (Oct. 2).
Penn State, 51-13 since 2005, is in the process of breaking in a new quarterback. Sophomore Kevin Newsome is the frontrunner, followed by redshirt sophomore Matt McGloin. Two true freshmen, Paul Jones from Sto-Rox High School, and Robert Bolden, also have taken snaps.
"We may be forced to play a freshman," Paterno said. "The Newsome kid is really a freshman. He started [school] in January, a year ago. ... I really don't know who's going to be the quarterback. We're trying to put them in situations where they have to make something happen. They have to be able to do some things in the clutch and get a little confidence and get the football team to have some confidence in them.
"Before it's all over, not right away, we'll probably have a decent quarterback. Whether we're going to have a great one this year, that's maybe a long shot."
Ron Musselman: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published August 13, 2010 4:00 AM