STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Idle on Saturday, unbeaten No. 3 Penn State plans to use down time this week to relax a little and rest aches and pains before refocusing on a promising final month of the season.
The same goes for hobbled coach Joe Paterno, who will get his ailing hip and right leg checked out Wednesday by doctors. Surgery could be a possibility.
But don't think the injury is keeping the 81-year-old Paterno from thinking about his future after this campaign ends, either.
"I think I'm going to have something get done, but I want to find out from [doctors] what needs to be done and get it done as soon as I can after the season is over so I can get on the road to recruit," Paterno said Tuesday as part of a long answer to a question about health at his weekly news conference.
It was an intriguing morsel of information from a Hall of Fame coach in the last season of his contract. Both he and school president Graham Spanier said in the spring they would table talks about his future until after the 2008 season.
They also agreed Paterno didn't need something in writing to come back to a job he's had for a record 43 seasons.
Paterno has said in the past, most recently before this season started, that he felt he could go at least another couple more years on the sideline.
Asked to clarify later if his statement meant he planned to come back in 2009, Paterno sighed before saying, "Sheesh ... have I ever said I wasn't coming back? OK?" Laughter filled the room.
In an e-mail later Tuesday, Spanier declined comment and repeated that neither he nor athletic director Tim Curley would speak on the matter until "sometime after the season is concluded."
If surgery is the answer, Paterno said he's been told recovery could take a couple days.
"It's not one of those things that has to be done, but I'm uncomfortable," said Paterno, who has used a cane the past three weeks. "But it's fixable, and it can be fixed."
After an otherwise uneventful half-hour with reporters, Paterno exchanged small talk, grabbed his cane and walked away. Practice would start in a couple hours, during which he monitors action from a golf cart.
Paterno has also spent the last four games coaching from the press box. While he wants to return to the sideline, Paterno said he also did not want to be a distraction to others worried they might barrel into him on the field.
"We love JoePa. If he wants to coach next year that's great," right guard Stefen Wisniewski said. "I realize there's been a lot of talk recently about him being towards the end of his coaching career obviously, but he's still doing well, he's still succeeding."
The Nittany Lions (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) are off to their best start since 1999, when LaVar Arrington and Courtney Brown starred on defense. A win in their next game, Nov. 8 at Iowa, would give Penn State its best start since the undefeated 1994 campaign.
Best of all for Paterno, he's got Penn State squarely in the national championship hunt, third in the BCS standings behind Texas and Alabama.
The Nittany Lions navigated a daunting October schedule flawlessly, blowing out Wisconsin on the road; using a dominating second half to end a nine-game skid to Michigan; and pulling out a 13-6 win over Ohio State at the Horseshoe.
Penn State is the first team in Big 10 history to beat the three conference stalwarts in consecutive weeks, regardless of which order the opponents were played, according to Penn State's sports information department.
So the bye week comes at an opportune time, when the Nittany Lions could use a little break following the physical and emotional stretch.
"You got a week off. We're not going to push you, we're not going to shove you," Paterno said in relaying part of his message to a squad meeting on Monday. "We're not going to badger them or anything like that."
At the same time, Paterno wants the Nittany Lions to still be mindful of Iowa practice Tuesday through Thursday this week before setting their full attention back on game preparation next week.
Paterno said Daryll Clark won't practice much this week, though his quarterabck should be fine to play against the Hawkeyes. Clark was pulled from the Ohio State game early in the fourth quarter for what had been called a minor concussion.