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Paterno’s packing a big punch

Watch out when USC and Penn State square off, as legendary Nittany Lion coach plans return to sidelines for Rose Bowl battle.

USC’s coach Pete Carroll

AP PHOTO

Paterno

Penn State’s first bowl game in program history actually came against USC in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1923.

Contrary to popular belief, Joe Paterno did not coach the ’22 Nittany Lions.

“I heard that in 1923 SC played Penn State,” Trojans coach Pete Carroll told Paterno on a Rose Bowl teleconference. “I don’t think you were there, but there was a fight between the coaches in the pregame. I know that you’re a little under the weather recovering, but I’m sure you still got a good left hand.”

“If you gotta worry about my left hand,” Paterno joked, “you’re in real trouble.”

Paterno, who was born in 1926, will be 82 by the time the Lions and Trojans play in this season’s Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. Before he gets around to working the heavy bag, he’s trying to get back to a normal schedule after having successful hip replacement surgery on Nov. 23.

Penn State’s coach was able to leave the hospital just two days later. By all accounts, Paterno has been feeling much better since the operation and while he’s still taking it easy at practices, he hopes to be back on the sideline for the Rose Bowl.

“It’s going really well,” Paterno said of his rehab. “We had practice Friday and Saturday, not very long, because we had recruits up over the weekend we were entertaining. I got out of the cart for a little bit. I’m walking around pretty good. I think I’m gonna be able to be on the sideline. I hope so.

“I think to miss that experience of being there in the Rose Bowl, looking across the field, seeing those Trojans, Pete, the whole bit, I may regret it,” he deadpanned, “but I’m looking forward to it.”

Paterno, who detests having to sit around and do nothing, had already begun to draw up preparations for December practices while still in the hospital.

He has overseen much of the team’s bowl preparations in the past few weeks but admits that there are still some distractions – both from his own body and other people – that he’s had to deal with.

Keeping busy hasn’t been a problem.

“Well, I’m not incapacitated,” he said. “I’ve tried to get caught up on some paperwork. I’m still way, way behind. I have so many people dropping me notes, sending me cards, telephone calls, things like that. But I tried to look at some of our season’s tapes. Always in the back of my mind, a chance to play Southern Cal might be there, so I’ve looked at tapes of Southern Cal.

“I put a couple of practice schedules together, things like that. I walk around. I do everything.”

While the focus at Penn State has been the head coach, it’s the assistants at USC that are getting the attention.

Trojans offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has already accepted the head coaching job at Pac-10 rival Washington, replacing former Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham for the 2009 season.

Part of the deal Sarkisian signed with the Huskies, however, allows him to stay with USC to coach in the Rose Bowl and finish out this season.

Carroll has hinted that he would prefer to promote within the program, and it’s believed that receivers coach John Morton will likely take over for Sarkisian and perhaps play a bigger role in preparing for the Lions.

Though Sarkisian will be around for the bowl game, his time will be split on the recruiting trail, as he has to work on finishing out the Huskies’ next class before national signing day in February.

“He’s gonna recruit for Washington and he’s gonna coach with us,” Carroll said. “We’re kind of broken up through finals here and the Christmas break and all. But the recruiting goes dead here over the holidays. He’ll jump in with us and stay with the game planning and all that. We’ll count on him to battle with us, just like he has forever, then he’ll be working in the recruiting area for them.

“I know he can’t move very far ahead with his team at this point, obviously other than recruiting. We made an agreement to do that. He deserves to be with us. We loved having him battle with us. He also deserves to get his program started. He’s gotta do all that at the same time. It’ll wear him out, but that’s OK, he’ll do his part.”

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