Joe Paterno says he has a succession plan in mind, but don't expect specific details about when he'll be leaving his job as Penn State football coach.
"People keep bugging me about putting together a plan," Paterno told USA Today for a story published Friday. "I've got a plan. I know what the plan is. I just don't know when I'm going to implement it. I don't know what the timing is going to be. If I had my way, we would have an in-house succession."
While Penn State struggles along with a 3-7 record and its fourth losing season in five years going into Saturday's season finale against visiting Michigan State, Paterno is forced to face facts.
"The plan I would like to put in place, and obviously the university would have to agree with it and I think to an extent they probably do, is we ought to try to see if we have an in-house guy that can get it done," Paterno told USA Today.
Speculation on who that guy might be centers on defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, whose unit is the bright side of the Penn State picture. The Nittany Lions made a game-saving goal-line stand last week against Indiana and rank seventh in passing yards allowed (160.8), ninth in total defense (286.9 yards) and 11th in scoring average (15.5 points).
Paterno himself succeeded Rip Engle in 1966 in a scenario much as he envisions for his successor. Paterno said his knowledge that he would succeed Engle aided him in recruiting a group that produced perfect seasons in 1968 and '69.
While Paterno cannot discuss his upcoming recruiting class until letters of intent are received in February, analysts believe Paterno and recruiting coordinator Mike McQueary are looking at an outstanding class.
Highly touted cornerback Justin King of Monroeville, Pa., has indicated he's going to Penn State, and he's the type of player who could induce other top recruits to join him in resurrecting the Lions.
"Justin King is the biggest catch for Penn State in years," Tom Lemming, ESPN.com's recruiting analyst, told USA Today. "King's commitment opens the door for other recruits. This could mirror what Chris Leak did two years ago when he played the pied piper, helping recruit some of the top seniors to Florida. This opens the door for a great class, because great recruits will follow great recruits."
Whether the pieces will all fit together and Paterno will get Bradley promoted ultimately could be out of Paterno's hands.
"As for succession after Coach Paterno retires, this is something that will be discussed when that time approaches," school president Graham Spanier told USA Today by e-mail. He said the board of trustees would not take action on the issue during a regularly scheduled meeting Friday.
In May, Paterno received a contract extension that carries through the 2008 season and close to his 82nd birthday, though he could leave sooner.
"The timing is the hard part," Paterno told USA Today. "People want to put a time frame on it, and I can't do that. I want to do it when it's right. The last thing I would want to do is to leave this thing and not feel the next guy can have a lot of luck."