CHICAGO — Joe Paterno wouldn’t say how long he plans to keep coaching at Penn State, but the 81-year-old icon was full of punch lines as he addressed a ballroom full of reporters at Big Ten media day.
“Obviously, you get tired of answering the same question: ‘When are you going to retire?'” Paterno said. “You can only answer so many ways.”
Paterno, who is set to begin his 43rd season as Penn State’s coach, answered the question more than a few ways on Thursday.
“I’d like to retire when I feel that I can’t make a contribution to Penn State,” Paterno said. “I feel very obligated to Penn State. I want to get out of it when I feel it’s appropriate. … I don’t want to be so stupid that you go so far that I can’t leave it the way I want to leave it.”
Paterno, whose 372 wins are one behind Florida State’s Bobby Bowden for most victories among major college football coaches, doesn’t have a contract beyond 2008. Paterno and Penn State president Graham Spanier agreed in April to meet after the coming season to discuss the coach’s future at the school.
What would it take for Paterno to step down?
“I’m having fun, and I’m enjoying it,” Paterno said. “We could lose 10 games by 15 points, and I could say, ‘Hey, we’re close. We’re one play away.’ I’ll know. If I don’t feel I’m doing a good job, I’ll know.”
When a reporter from a Philadelphia newspaper continued to press Paterno on the subject, the coach replied, “I don’t know! I don’t know! Do you want me to spell it? I-d-o-n-t-k-n-o-w. How many times can I say it?”