More on Paterno's injury, coaching future

October, 8, 2008
10/08/08
4:57
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Not surprisingly, Penn State coach Joe Paterno is doing his best to downplay the leg injury that has kept him off the sidelines for a game and a half this season. But because of Paterno's age (81) and uncertain coaching future beyond this season, the injury continues to draw attention.

Paterno has arthritis in his right leg, which he injured while demonstrating a kick in preseason practice. There's a growing belief that if anything will force the coaching legend to step away, it would be his physical ability to do the job.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Bob Smizik writes about the unique circumstances surrounding what could be JoePa's final season.

The drama of the season was supposed to be all about coach Joe Paterno, 81, and his desire to retire on his own terms and not at the end of this season. It was supposed to be about a contest of wills between Paterno, who maintains massive support from appreciative alumni who know and understand what he has done for the school, and high-ranking university administrators, who had failed to give him a contract extension and, by most accounts, were trying to gather the necessary strength to force him out of the job he has held since 1966.

But midway through the season, much has changed and the drama will play out on two fronts:

  • The Lions are not an ordinary team. They're 6-0 and ranked sixth in the nation. The championship of the Big Ten, a conference that looks to be substandard this season, is within reach and with that comes the possibility of playing for the national title.
  • Paterno's physical health has declined to the point where it could cause him to do something no one expected: retire of his own accord.

Paterno will decide later this week or even on game day whether he'll spend Saturday night on the field at Camp Randall Stadium or in the press box as Penn State takes on Wisconsin (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Longtime Wisconsin coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez had to coach from the press box in 1999 following knee-replacement surgery and tells the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane about the pros and cons of Paterno's predicament.

There are advantages to coaching upstairs, as both Paterno and Alvarez pointed out. Paterno, who has never worn a headset on the sidelines, can now communicate with each one of his assistants.

"If you want to talk to someone, you have no problem getting to them," Alvarez said. "And you have a better vantage point. You see the entire picture."

You don't, however, get to read the kid's faces, the looks in their eye," Alvarez noted.

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