Contract not issue, says Paterno
Joe Paterno breaks his silence.
Joe Paterno hadn't spoken to members of the media since the Nittany Lions' bowl trip to San Antonio.
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Joe Paterno's standoff with Penn State may be the second most pressing issue facing Pennsylvania, trailing only the April primary.
In one corner is Paterno, the 81-year-old icon entering his 43rd season as the Nittany Lions' football coach. His contract expires after the 2008 season.
In the other corner is the university, which has been trying to get Paterno to set a timetable for his retirement or agree to a succession plan. If he doesn't, Paterno faces the possibility of getting pushed out.
Paterno talked to reporters for the first time in three months yesterday following a spring practice at Holuba Hall.
He was peppered with questions about his contract and future for roughly 10 minutes before someone finally asked about his football team.
"I don't even care if I get a contract," Paterno said, shrugging.
That would be fine with one member of Penn State's Board of Trustees, who said yesterday the university doesn't want to extend Paterno's deal beyond this season anyway.
Earlier this month, Paterno met with president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley about his future. Two trustees previously told the Post-Gazette that the meeting did not go well, although Paterno disputed that interpretation yesterday.
"We talked about what the situation was because there was some pressure on some people about doing something," he said. "I have no problem. I'm not looking for a contract. I'm not looking for anything.
"If I've got to have a contract to keep my job here, I'm in the wrong place."
Lisa Powers, Penn State's director of public information, said yesterday that discussions between Spanier, Curley and Paterno are ongoing.
"In a couple days or weeks, they will meet again," she said.
Spanier has been tight-lipped about the Paterno negotiations, saying only that Paterno will coach this fall.
Paterno, the second-winningest coach in Division I behind Florida State's Bobby Bowden, claims to be oblivious to the speculation about his future. But he invited reporters to watch an entire practice yesterday for the first time that anyone could remember.
"I don't know what the perception is," Paterno said.
"You guys are creating the perception. I'm not. I don't have any problem. I have a year to go on my contract, and we're going to go from there. I don't know what else to tell you. ... I think the university will do what it thinks is right whenever the time comes. Right now, I'm very comfortable."
Linebacker Sean Lee from Upper St. Clair High School insists the speculation swirling around Paterno hasn't been a distraction.
"I just feel like that's been an issue for the last 15 years," Lee said. "He's laid the foundation, so, when he leaves, it's still going to be the same type of school. So it's no big deal. You just got to go out and play football and concentrate. You can't be playing like this might be coach's last year. That doesn't do much."
For years, Paterno has said he would like to name his successor. That hasn't changed, at least in his mind.
"I certainly don't expect to announce that I am going to be the guy to make the decision by myself," he said. "I think the university president, Tim Curley and I got to sit down when I decide to get out of it, and decide who could best do the job. I hope that it would be somebody from the staff. ... Whether that's going to be in the cards, I don't know that.
"I think the future needs to be defined when it has to be defined. It just doesn't have to be defined today."
Paterno, who joked he'd like to coach 10 more years, admits he spends a lot more time working at home these days than he does in his office at the Lasch Building.
"I can walk home in 15 minutes," he said. "I can drive home in five minutes. When I leave you guys, I'll have bourbon in five minutes. There's no reason for me to be here. I have my own fax at home, my own telephone at home. I got all my tapes there. ... I can get so much more done at home.
"I hate to say this, but to a lot of people, I'm a celebrity. And, when they come in town, you'd be amazed how many people who may be Ohio State fans or Michigan fans and they're passing through and they stop in and say, `Can we get our picture taken, or can you autograph this for me?' I can't get my work done."
First Published March 30, 2008 12:00 am