Paterno to coach from sideline
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Joe Paterno will start another milestone season where he's spent most of the past six decades: on the Penn State sideline.
The 82-year-old Hall-of-Fame coach has said all offseason that he'll return to the field following surgery last November to fix a balky hip that kept him in the press box for most of the 2008 season.
He's on target with four days to go until the No. 9 Nittany Lions' season opener against Akron -- just don't expect him to bolt out of the Beaver Stadium tunnel.
"I don't know whether I'll be able to run on the field. I'm trying to do a little jogging out there on the practice field, but [doctors] get a little nervous sometimes because they still want me to be careful about the hip," Paterno said Tuesday.
Everything else OK, though?
"I've had absolutely no problems, going out there, going from drill to drill," he added. "I'm looking forward to getting back on the sideline."
And so starts Paterno's 60th season at Penn State -- the first 16 as an assistant, the next 44 as the head coach.
Few seasons matched the hoopla that surrounded JoePa to start 2008.
His contract was expiring. In September, his hip started giving him trouble after he tried to demonstrate an onside kick in practice. The problem got worse as the season progressed, relegating Paterno to the press box.
"I enjoyed it upstairs. That was kind of fun. I could second-guess the coaches all the time," joked Paterno.
The rumor mill churned -- was this the end of the road for Paterno?
It was Paterno smiling by the end of the regular season, with a Big Ten title in hand. Within weeks he had his hip surgery and a three-year contract extension.
Now the only drama in Happy Valley is on the field.
"I feel much better about everything, so I'm relieved about where I am physically, and hopefully it won't be 'Paterno's doing this, Paterno's doing that," he said. "We can concentrate on our football team."
The injuries of most concern now are happening on defense.
Paterno said Tuesday that backup defensive tackle Brandon Ware, a 341-pound redshirt freshman, would be out for three to four weeks after breaking his right foot in practice Monday.
Ware's loss, along with the offseason departure of another tackle, junior Abe Koroma, presents another hit to Penn State's depth in the middle. The starting spots still remain in the capable hands of senior Jared Odrick, a potential All-American, and junior Ollie Ogbu.
Penn State already lost backup defensive end Pete Massaro and linebacker Michael Mauti to season-ending knee injuries. Mauti's loss is especially a blow, as Paterno said he was close to star linebackers Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman in talent.
"I just told him to try to look at this in the long run, look at yourself at the beginning of [next] summer ... when the ACL is no longer an issue," said Lee, who is coming back from a knee injury himself. "Stay positive because negativity will not get you through this."
Elsewhere on defense, Paterno said cornerback A.J. Wallace may play Saturday against Akron after the coach initially said early in preseason that the senior may need to sit out for a week or two for cutting classes.
Whenever Wallace returns, he'll be a welcome addition to a secondary that's breaking in four new starters -- a unit considered one of Penn State's biggest question marks coming into the season.
It's the kind of predicament that Paterno would rather solve than any issue having to do with his health or contract, the kind of problem that Paterno has loved figuring out for 60 years.
"I think eventually we're going to be a pretty good football team, but until we get a couple things better, we're going to have to fight for our lives," Paterno said, "and I kind of like that situation."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press