Paterno plans to help young Lions in 2011

It's a little ironic, the really old guy saying he'll be back to help coach a young and improving team in 2011.

Penn State's youth is a main reason Joe Paterno cited Tuesday in announcing his plans to return for a 46th season as the team's head coach next fall.

"Now's not the time to go," Paterno said. "We've got a young team. They may not be there yet, but they will be soon."

And JoePa will be there to lead them, as long as his health holds up.

I'm excited about Paterno coming back for 2011. He's by far the most unique football coach I've ever covered, and he adds so much to the Big Ten and to the college game.

But how do Penn State fans feel? There's certainly a portion of Nittany Nation who wants to see Paterno step aside. The team is just 7-4 this season with four blowout losses, and recruiting for 2011 is off to a very slow start.

Paterno, by the way, addressed recruiting on the Big Ten teleconference Tuesday. Asked why he no longer recruits off campus, he cited the "hoopla" that accompanies him wherever he goes and the demands placed on his time by many folks not possessing a rocket arm or a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash.

"Sometimes you can't get in to see all of the kids with the same intensity that you see some of them," Paterno said. "I've always been reluctant to make some guys feel more important than others."

That's certainly noble, but Penn State has only five players verbally committed for 2011. Perhaps that number will increase after Tuesday's announcement, but Paterno's assistants have to do the lion's share of the work.

Paterno seemed surprised Tuesday when asked about his plans, as if there was any doubt he'd be back.

"I've never indicated to anybody that I'm not coming back," he said. "I've not thought about getting out of it."

Paterno will turn 84 on Dec. 21, and his health is and will be the No. 1 concern going forward. He had some significant health issues in the late spring and early summer and looked very frail at Big Ten preseason media days in August.

But Paterno has looked better and better as the season has gone on. He sounded very sharp today on the Big Ten call.

Is Paterno's return the healthiest thing for Penn State's program? Opinions vary, but Paterno is right about the Lions' youth and the greater potential for 2011.

And if the old guy helps Penn State return to the Big Ten's upper crust, those really young guys -- the elite recruits -- likely will flock to State College.