PSU Coach Marks Milestone Birthday - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

PSU Coach Marks Milestone Birthday

AP AP

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) - Two decades ago, Joe Paterno figured he'd coach for another few years.

The Penn State great turns 80 on Thursday, and the answer is still the same. Even a broken left leg hasn't changed his tune.

"I had planned before I got injured to coach at least a couple more years," Paterno said earlier this month. "I don't think the injury has set me back that far. It remains to be seen, but right now I am planning on doing exactly what I had planned to do before I got injured."

The Paterno family isn't planning any big celebrations this week, though they had a small get-together after Thanksgiving to mark the occasion. JoePa likes to keep his birthday low-key, son and quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said Wednesday night.

Milestone birthday aside, 2006 has already been a big year for Paterno.

The Nittany Lions won the Orange Bowl in January to cap a memorable 2005 season in which they won the Big Ten and finished No. 3 in the polls.

The 2006 season marked Paterno's 41st year leading Penn State, tying the record for the longest time coaching one school set by Amos Alonzo Stagg at the University of Chicago between 1892-32.

On Nov. 4, Paterno got walloped in a sideline collision with two players at Wisconsin. He fractured his shinbone, tore two knee ligaments in his left leg and had surgery the next day.

The injury forced Paterno to watch Penn State's 47-0 rout of Temple on Nov. 11 from home - the first JoePa-less game for Penn State since 1977, when Paterno skipped a game after son David was involved in an accident.

The head coach returned to Beaver Stadium to catch the victory over Michigan State in the regular-season finale, taking in the game from the press box.

Joining his players on the sideline at the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 against No. 17 Tennessee might be Paterno's biggest birthday wish right now.

Paterno has said he intends to lead the Nittany Lions (8-4) from the field, though team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli has the final word.

"Coach Paterno, it seems like he's 40 years old," safety Anthony Scirrotto said. "The guy has a fire inside of him that keeps burning, and I don't think it's going out any time soon."

Sebastianelli has said that Paterno has progressed well since the surgery and should be able to walk on his own in a month or so. Paterno has been watching practice from a golf cart, and recently began walking on his own with the help of a walker.

"He picked it up and started holding it above his head when he walked," Jay Paterno said. "I think he's more proud of that than he is his birthday."

The coach's desire to get back on his feet seems as powerful as his desire to keep coaching.

"I can't explain it. Why do people write forever? Why do people do whatever they like to do and not want to back away from it? I don't play golf, I don't fish and I am not a guy for hobbies," Paterno said.

"To me, college football and being around kids and trying to make them as good as they can be, and having a good competitive football team with the kind of support we get ... it is an ego trip I am sure. I am sure it is part ego, but it is fun and I am enjoying it," he said.

Until he gives a more definitive response, Paterno will keep fans and former players alike guessing just how much longer he can go.

The question came up again when former Penn State linebacker Shane Conlan gathered recently with former quarterback John Shaffer and a couple other teammates from the 1986 national title team at a lodge.

Shaffer recalled a recruiting visit in the basement of his parents' home in 1983 when he asked the coach when he might retire.

"I would have given you the over/under at about five years," Shaffer said. "But that was 20 years ago."

Powered by Frankly