Paterno says he'll 'run out of that tunnel next year' as Nittany Lions coach

With rumors of his retirement swirling about campus and throughout the country for days, Penn State coach Joe Paterno told a pep rally Friday night at Rec Hall in State College, Pa., that he will return in 2009 "and run out of that tunnel next year."

The crowd of approximately 6,500 Penn State fans, some wearing "Joe Can't Go" t-shirts, roared its approval. The players for the No. 8 Nittany Lions (10-1), who can win at least a share of the Big Ten Conference championship and a Rose Bowl bid by defeating No. 15 Michigan State (9-2) on Saturday at Beaver Stadium, joined in the celebration as well.

Paterno, 81, stood and spoke for 15 minutes without the cane he has used since injuring his right hip earlier this season. He has acknowledged recently that he needs hip replacement surgery and will undergo it soon, perhaps as early as next week.

Paterno said at his weekly news conference Tuesday that "I expect to be back on the field" next season. However, Nittany Lion fans around the country have continued to speculate that Paterno would announce after the game Saturday that he would retire. One rumor said Paterno would make the announcement at a dinner Saturday night that many of his former players would attend.

Penn State quarterback coach Jay Paterno said Thursday night that his father's plan for Saturday night would be as follows: "He'll go home, have an Old Grand-Dad on the rocks and watch games."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.