Penn State football coach Joe Paterno answers a question during his weekly news conference Tuesday afternoon. Penn State hosts Michigan State on Saturday with a shot at winning the Big Ten title and heading to the Rose Bowl.AP PHOTO
Joe Paterno has a message to those heading to Beaver Stadium on Saturday expecting to see his last home game as head coach.
“Come to the game and enjoy it,” he said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “It’s a big football game. It’s a big football game for this football team. A big football game for Penn State. If we win it, a lot of good things can happen to us. … But I don’t think (people) should be coming because they think it’s my last game.”
Not that Paterno’s repeated denials are to be taken as gospel, but anyone expecting to hear some sort of announcement on the coach’s future is most likely going to be disappointed.
There’s no shortage of speculation around Paterno and his future during any November. But it’s hit a fever pitch this season.
Paterno will turn 82 in a month and his contract expires after the season. Add that to a probable hip replacement in the near future and there are obviously some legitimate reasons for the man to call it a career.
Still, Paterno and his assistants haven’t wavered at all on the assertion that he’ll be back for 2009.
“Have I ever said I wasn’t coming back?” Paterno said last month to close out a press conference.
“Nah, haven’t even thought about it,” was how he ended another on Saturday.
Paterno doesn’t view his current physical problems as a long-term issue, saying repeatedly that his painful right hip is “fixable.” Plus the Nittany Lions figure to have a shot at another run for an undefeated season because of the talent coming back and what’s looking like a weak schedule.
Plus, when the time does come when Paterno decides to get out of coaching, an announcement is almost certainly not going to come during some sort of postgame ceremony. Paterno detests the spotlight being taken off of his players and onto him. The last thing he wants is some sort of farewell tour, be it for an entire season or for the run-up to a bowl game.
He drove that point home again Tuesday.
After all, Penn State is playing for some serious stakes this weekend.
A win over No. 15 Michigan State would lock up a third Big Ten title in program history, as well as a spot in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
A loss to the Spartans would likely still result in a Jan. 1 bowl, but in the much less-prestigious Capital One or Outback.
So for now, Paterno isn’t eager to discuss his future.
“Let’s get off that. I haven’t even thought about any of that,” he told reporters. “I know you’ve gotta figure out who is gonna get a jump on some kind of a story. I don’t know what kind of a story you’re looking for, but I have not even thought about any of that stuff. I really haven’t. I’m not trying to be cute. I’m not trying to be dishonest about it. I really haven’t even thought about it.”
Paterno did say on Saturday after beating Indiana that he might try to have hip surgery shortly after the Michigan State game. But nothing has been finalized, and might not be for another few days.
“I’m pretty sure we’re gonna get something done,” Paterno said Tuesday. “When we’re going to get it done and what’s going to be done, we’ll probably make a decision late this week or early next week.”
Regardless of what happens and when, Paterno has full plans to be involved with preparation for a bowl game and coaching in it, whether it’s from the sideline or the coaches booth.
“I’m gonna be back. But how it’s gonna affect me – I don’t have an M.D. after my name yet,” Paterno joked. “Maybe when I retire I’ll go back to medical school or some place. … But I’m certainly gonna be involved one way or the other, even if I have to walk around again with a cane for a month.”
No. 15 Michigan State (9-2, 6-1)
at No. 8 Penn State (10-1, 6-1)
3:30 p.m., Saturday, ABC
Beaver Stadium, State College