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PSU's Paterno unconcerned with retirement, contract situation

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Munching on a slice of pizza in between sentences, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno didn't look or sound too worried about his future.

So what if he's entering the final year of his contract?

"I don't even care if I get a contract. I'll be very frank with you," Paterno, 81, said Saturday in his first meeting with reporters in three months. "I think the university will do what they think is right, whenever the time comes. Right now, I'm very comfortable."

"What do I need an extension for?" he asked before joking that he could coach "just another 10 years."

Asked later whether he would feel comfortable going year-to-year, Paterno said "Absolutely. Absolutely. Why not?"

This fall will mark Paterno's 43rd season as head coach, though the man who holds the record for coaching longevity said he isn't mulling retirement. He tried to downplay speculation about his future during the 35-minute news conference following a rare practice open to reporters.

"I have no problem. I'm not looking for a contract, I'm not looking for anything," Paterno said during the often lighthearted exchange with reporters.

School president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley have spoken recently with Paterno, and Curley has said there is no timetable to make any decisions.

Paterno, who has no agent, said he hasn't had negotiations, though he has spoken with administrators "about the situation." Save for one instance during his tenure, Paterno said administrators approach him about contract issues, not the other way around.

"I don't see any reason to get into all this stuff," Paterno said, adding that he was hesitant to do anything that would be detrimental to the program's future. "You don't think I'd put this many years into this thing and, you know, want to screw it up?"

Paterno took over as head coach in 1966 from Rip Engle after serving as Engle's assistant for 16 years. The former aspiring lawyer has become the second-winningest major college coach with 372 victories, one behind Florida State's Bobby Bowden.

Paterno said Saturday he wouldn't mind seeing someone on his staff follow in his footsteps, a sentiment he's expressed in the past. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, a Paterno assistant for 30 years, might be the top in-house candidate, though JoePa on Saturday steered clear of endorsing a succession plan -- let alone naming names.

"Whether that's in the cards, I don't know right now. It depends on when I get out of it," he said. "If I'm going to leave tomorrow, I would hope that it's in the cards, but I'm not planning on leaving tomorrow."

In practice, a vintage Paterno -- without his trademark khakis rolled up at the cuffs -- stomped up and down the field offering encouragement and needling players after mistakes.

"If the wideouts don't catch the ball, we'll be running off tackle all game," he yelled after a dropped pass over the middle.

Paterno's future doesn't appear to be a hot topic among the players. With eight starters back on offense and seven on defense -- not including suspended tackles Phil Taylor and Chris Baker -- the team has veteran talent that could contend again in the Big Ten.

The focus has been on improving on last year's 9-4 record, linebacker Sean Lee said.

"I just feel that's been an issue for the last 15 years," Lee said about Paterno's future. "People have been playing like it's his last year for a while now."

Receiver Jordan Norwood said contract talk isn't a distraction.

"This is the last year of his contract? See, that's news to me because I don't pay attention," the three-year starter said.

Also making news during the offseason were the suspensions of six players, including Baker and Taylor, for academic or disciplinary reasons. Paterno said the Nittany Lions were "working our way through" the off-field concerns.

"I would hope all of them would be out in the fall, but right now none of them are out," he said.

Finding a quarterback to succeed two-year starter Anthony Morelli is a question that appears more pressing to Paterno than sorting out his contract.

"You know what I'll do when I go home right now?" Paterno asked as he reached into a pocket to reveal a crinkled sheet of paper. "I'll take out this big sheet I got and say, 'So-and-so stunk out the place, and we better get to work on this.' "