Paterno's recovery ahead of schedule

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Joe Paterno arrived at Beaver Stadium in a wheelchair Thursday to talk about Penn State's trip to the Outback Bowl and was greeted by photographers snapping pictures.

It wasn't the way the 79-year-old coach wanted to start his first news conference since injuring his leg in a sideline accident last month.

"I want us to be talking about our football team and where we're going. The team we're going to play," Paterno said. "I don't think I should be in the spotlight."

Looking grandfatherly in a dark plaid sweater, Paterno was wheeled up a ramp to a microphone. He hadn't met with reporters since Penn State tight end Andrew Quarless and Wisconsin linebacker DeAndre Levy ran into him on the sidelines during the Lions' 13-3 loss to the Badgers on Nov. 4.

He had surgery the next day to repair a fractured shinbone and two torn knee ligaments. Doctors told him that he wouldn't be able to put weight on the leg for at least six weeks.

Paterno missed Penn State's game against Temple -- only the second game he's missed in 41 years as Nittany Lions head coach. He coached from the press box in Penn State's season finale against Michigan State.

Paterno was eager to talk football Thursday but was asked a few questions about the injury.

He said he had not been focusing on the field and had been barking out orders on the sideline when the players came barreling at him.

"I didn't see the kid from Wisconsin. I saw the tight end come over and got away from him," Paterno said. "I didn't think I got hurt that much. ... When I started to get up, I knew I had a good shot."

Paterno said his recovery is ahead of schedule. He put weight on the left foot for the first time on Wednesday, 10 days ahead of schedule.

Paterno has said that he is optimistic doctors will let him coach from his feet on the sidelines in Tampa.

And he's got no plans to step away from coaching. He turns 80 on Dec. 21.

"I'm not looking for it to being a problem. If it turns out being a problem, then obviously I'll back away and re-evaluate my situation," he said. "Right now, I'm planning to do exactly what I planned to do before I got injured."

He's also trying to devote more time to watching Tennessee, Penn State's Outback Bowl opponent on Jan. 1, on film. Penn State sealed its bowl berth before Thanksgiving, and since then the coaching staff had been looking at tapes of Tennessee and Auburn, another potential SEC opponent.

"We're a little bit behind where we wanted to be," Paterno said. "Everyone felt it would be Auburn. I'm trying to get caught up myself."

Penn State (8-4) is making back-to-back postseason trips for the first time since getting bowl bids to cap the 1998 and '99 campaigns.

Paterno's 362 career wins are three behind Florida State's Bobby Bowden among major college coaches. The Outback Bowl will mark Paterno's record 33rd postseason appearance; he's also the career leader in postseason victories (21).

Tennessee comes into the Outback Bowl with the 13th-best passing offense in the country.

"They're not that very far away from Michigan and Ohio State," Paterno said. The Lions lost to both Big Ten heavyweights this season.

"The offense is more like Ohio State in that they do so many things well," he said. "Defensively, they remind me of both of those teams ... the variety, the changes of pace they give you."