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Paterno's plans undisclosed

| Sunday, March 9, 2008

Purdue football coach Joe Tiller spent part of a recent Nike coaches trip discussing the ins and outs of coaching succession plans with another guy named Joe -- Penn State's Joe Paterno.

Tiller will retire after the 2008 season and be replaced by Danny Hope, who has left a head coaching job with Eastern Kentucky to join Tiller's staff for a transition season. Paterno, the 81-year-old Penn State coach whose contract runs through this season, sought out Tiller, full of questions that he wanted answered.

"He was asking me 'Why?' and 'Who?' and 'How?' " Tiller said during a telephone interview. "He didn't really tip his hand. But he did ask me 'Who's this guy?' and 'Why did I like him?' and 'Why now?' and those types of things.

"He didn't say, 'I'm thinking about this or I've got to do this.' But, after it had been announced, he seemed to be curious."

Speculation has been rampant regarding the future of Paterno beyond the 2008 season. Possibilities range from him fulfilling his existing contract by coaching next season and then retiring, to him getting a multi-year extension, to the school giving him a contract with details on a successor as part of it.

A school spokesman said neither Paterno nor Penn State athletic director Tim Curley would be available for interviews on the subject. Penn State president Graham Spanier, who responds to inquiries via e-mail, has written that the ultimate decision will be made by "the director of athletics with the concurrence of the president."

Penn State spokesman Lisa Powers confirmed in a Friday e-mail that Paterno, Curley and Spanier met recently "as part of ongoing discussions."

The e-mail continued that updates will be issued, "if they have anything substantive to report along the way."

Paterno has said repeatedly since the end of the 2007 that he intends to coach beyond his existing contract."I'm not going to coach for 15 years or 10 years," Paterno said last year. "Maybe 3-4-5 years, I'll coach. Depending on how the Good Lord keeps me healthy and I feel like I'm making a contribution."

Spanier, in an e-mail response to a question of whether other schools' succession plans would influence Penn State's thinking, wrote: "Coach Paterno's current contract goes to 2008 and we are not working under anyone else's timeframe."

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez would be a good person for the Penn State hierarchy to contact if plans are afoot to address a Paterno successor in contract negotiations.

Alvarez was an early mover in what has become a trend of succession plans when he announced in the summer of 2005 that the upcoming season would be his 16th and final one as Wisconsin head coach and that defensive coordinator Bret Bielema, on the staff for just one previous season, would be the new head coach.

"There were many positives to doing it that way, particularly for Bret, who had not yet been a head coach," Alvarez said in a telephone interview. "I felt he had the big picture, but there's no training to be a head coach. There's no way you can totally prepare to sit behind that desk and be prepared for all of the things that cross your desk.

"For a year, he and I would walk every Thursday, talk every day, go through the reasons I'd made specific decisions, share issues with him. He was getting a dry run."

Alvarez, who was born in Southwestern Pennsylvania and attended what now is Burgettstown High School, was 58 years old when he made his successor announcement. He also had the dual title of athletic director and football coach.

Purdue has embraced predetermined successions, having gone public in recent years with successors in men's basketball and football.

Purdue announced in April 2004 that Matt Painter, a former Boilermakers basketball player, would resign as head coach at Southern Illinois and serve one season as Gene Keady's assistant before assuming the head post.

Purdue football followed suit this January when it announced that Hope, a former assistant under Tiller at Wyoming and Purdue, would leave his head coaching post at Eastern Kentucky to be associate head coach and offensive line coach at Purdue for 2008.

"Each year I sit down with the athletic director and talk about direction," said Tiller, 65. "This time I said, 'You know what• This is it for me, and let's do some planning.' The basketball made it (a succession plan) more palatable. It was not as though it was something new."

The succession trend is wide-ranging. In February, the Seattle Seahawks announced that Jim Mora Jr. would succeed Mike Holmgren as head coach in 2009.

When Bobby Knight retired abruptly as Texas Tech men's basketball coach in February, his son, Pat, slipped into the post, having been designated as the successor two years ago.

At Florida State, 78-year-old Bobby Bowden's successor is in place on the staff, offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher. The announcement was made in December, but the timing is open-ended. Bowden declined to be interviewed for this story.

Former Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne, who has been brought back as the Cornhuskers athletic director through 2010, said in a telephone interview that succession plans aren't anything new.

"That happened with Bob Devaney and me many years ago," Osborne said, referring to the man who preceded him at Nebraska and also was the athletic director. "Bob announced a year ahead of retirement I would be next head coach. That year provided a year for people to get used to the idea I would be taking over.

"I think it makes for a smoother transition if you can do that."

The main hangup to Penn State pursuing this gameplan is that, unlike all the aforementioned coaches, who were ready to leave the post to some degree, Paterno has indicated repeatedly that he is not, often asking rhetorically of his retirement, "What would I do?"

The question now is, what will Penn State do?

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