He Keeps Going and Going...

By: AP
By: AP

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- Just in time for Joe Paterno's 82nd birthday: a three-year contract extension.
Give or take a year.
A deal was struck with Penn State that will provide "for the opportunity of Coach Joe Paterno leading the football program through the 2011 season," the athletic department said Tuesday in a brief statement.
That means the Hall of Famer and major college football's all-time winningest coach could lead the Nittany Lions into his mid-80s.
"It was also agreed that the parties might reevaluate their circumstances and alter the arrangement by either shortening or extending its length as necessary," the statement said.
The wording might sound a little vague, though it's somewhat similar to the comments Paterno and university president Graham Spanier made this past spring when they agreed JoePa didn't need something in writing to keep a job he's had a record 43 years.
Paterno's current deal had expired after this season.
"There's no reason for me not to think that I can go for a while," he said last week when asked how much longer he could coach. "Now how long is a while? I don't know."
Questions about the contract have dogged Spanier and Paterno through the year, a season that started with much of the media spotlight on Penn State players' off-field problems in the offseason.
A hip injury suffered two days before the season opener also hobbled him all year, and eventually kept him from pacing the sideline the last seven weeks of the season. That led to more speculation about whether or not he would even be healthy enough to coach in 2009.
It turns out Joe's a go for next year after all.
An 11-1 season exceeded the expectations of most preseason prognosticators and catapulted the No. 6 Nittany Lions back atop the Big Ten. He said after a Nov. 22 win over Michigan State that he planned to return next season, as Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley watched nearby.
Paterno had hip replacement surgery the next day, a procedure that appears to have him in much better shape.
He's easing back into his coaching routine, with a goal of returning to the sideline for the Rose Bowl against No. 5 Southern California on New Year's Day. Paterno plans to make a final decision after he tests his legs during practices in California, which start on Sunday -- his 82nd birthday.
On the field, the Nittany Lions didn't slow down either as they flirted with the national championship race in October and early November.
Penn State has also snagged verbal commitments from at least 20 high school players, including several blue-chippers, according to recruiting services.
Paterno has often said his recruiting pitch to high school recruits is to consider the university and the coaching staff as a whole, not just the iconic coach old enough to be their grandfather.
Yet he couldn't escape the questions on the recruiting trail, either.
"If we can work out something that they are comfortable with and I'm comfortable with before the bowl, fine," Paterno said when asked if he would be concerned if a contract agreement wasn't reached before the Rose Bowl.
"I just get tired of recruits asking me, 'How long are you going to be there?," he said. "But most of them are fine."
Terms of the extension were not announced. Records released by the State Employees Retirement System last year put his 2007 salary at about $512,000, though the state data did not reflect other sources of compensation such as bonuses or outside income.
By salary alone though, Paterno's contract is nowhere close to those of other big names such as Alabama's Nick Saban, the highest paid coach at $4 million a year.
But Paterno has never given any indication that he's working for a big payday.
Rather, it's about winning on the field, as well as making sure players get their work done in the classroom.
His competitive juices still flowing, Paterno has more milestones within reach if he goes at least two more years.
Counting Paterno's 16 seasons as a Penn State assistant before taking the head-coaching job in 1966, the 2009 campaign would be JoePa's 60th year on the Nittany Lions' coaching staff.
His 383 wins are two ahead of Florida State's Bobby Bowden for first place on the career victory list for bowl subdivision coaches.
And Paterno is 17 wins away from joining Eddie Robinson (408) and John Gagliardi (461) as the only coaches in any division with at least 400 victories.
It appears he'll stick around long enough to get there.


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