UNIVERSITY PARK — Joe Paterno made sure reporters had the phrasing right.
After answering in the affirmative a question about whether he would be back to coach Penn State’s football team next season, Paterno got a follow-up question that began: “You mentioned earlier that you hope to be back ...”
“I didn’t say ‘hope,’” Paterno said, cutting off the question. “I’m gonna.”
As has been the case during each of the last few years, speculation that Penn State’s home finale Saturday against Michigan State could be Paterno’s final game on the Beaver Stadium sideline has trickled through the state. And, as he has done in each of those years, Paterno squashed such speculation, saying he is excited about what the Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) could be capable of in 2011.
“I think we could be a pretty good football team next year and I want to be part of it,” he said Tuesday during his weekly news conference in Beaver Stadium.
In December of 2008, the university released a statement that said Paterno, Penn State president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley had reached an “agreement that will provide for the opportunity of Coach Joe Paterno leading the football program through the 2011 season.” Paterno said not long after that he wasn’t working under a contract and didn’t need one.
“I don’t think it’s entirely my call,” Paterno said Tuesday. “I’m not running the university. But I would hope that what I want to do would be taken into consideration and go from there.”
Paterno’s players expected their coach to say nothing else.
“I’m not surprised at all,” senior offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski said. “I feel like no one on the team would be surprised by that. The guy just keeps going and he hasn’t lost any passion for this at all.”
Earlier Tuesday, wide receiver Derek Moye said that even if Paterno were mulling retirement, the Nittany Lions wouldn’t know before anyone else.
“I think he would probably keep it to himself,” Moye said. “He probably wouldn’t even tell us until after the game or the season. ... He would want us to have all the focus on the game.”
Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti, who missed the Indiana game and most of the Ohio State game with a separated shoulder, will wear a green cross at practice this week and could try to play Saturday.
“After we watch him do some things (Tuesday) we’ll have a better idea Saturday if he can do anything at all,” Paterno said.
Center Doug Klopacz did not practice Monday and is doubtful for Saturday after spraining his left ankle in the first quarter against the Hoosiers. Right guard Stefen Wisniewski will likely slide to center, as he did last Saturday, with either John Urschel or DeOn’tae Pannell filling in at right guard.
Staying or going?
Safety Andrew Dailey and defensive end Kevion Latham, both scholarship juniors with a year of eligibility remaining, will be honored with Penn State’s graduating seniors on Senior Day, though Paterno said he tried to talk Dailey into putting off the decision until the spring on Tuesday morning.
“I told him, just wait, you’re in no hurry,’” Paterno said. “‘Let’s just play it by ear right now.’ He’s a good kid and I’d like to keep him if I can.”
Penn State offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski, defensive end Pete Massaro and linebacker Chris Colasanti were named to the ESPN Academic All-America first team.
Wisniewski became the first Penn State football player to be honored in three different years and joined former wrestler Jim Martin and former
women’s basketball player Kelly Mazzante as Penn State’s only three-time honorees.
It was the first honor for Colasanti, who is majoring in kinesiology and premedicine.
“Balancing school and football, I’m not going to say it’s easy,” Colasanti said. “You’ve got to give up weekends and hanging out with friends. I’m proud of myself that I can accomplish that in four years.”
Moye said Tuesday morning that he might submit his name to the NFL advisory committee to gauge his draft status but that he will return for his senior season. ... Paterno said defensive tackles Ollie Ogbu and Devon Still and offensive linemen Pannell and Chima Okoli were “still a little bit on trial” for missing a team function last Saturday but were unlikely to see additional punishment.