Paterno contract talks tabled until end of 2008 season

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Joe Paterno and his boss agree: The 81-year-old football coach doesn't need a new contract to keep his job at Penn State.

Paterno's current contract is up at the end of the 2008 season, yet that doesn't necessarily mean the end of his record-setting tenure leading the Nittany Lions.

University president Graham Spanier told The Associated Press in an e-mail that both the school and Paterno agree that a contract isn't necessary for the man entering his 43rd season as Penn State coach. The sides agreed to meet, as they have in the past, at the end of the season to discuss the future.

"We are in agreement that a contract would have little practicality given Coach Paterno's seniority. None of us see that as necessary," Spanier wrote in the e-mail Wednesday night in response to a request for an update from the AP.

Asked Thursday to clarify the arrangement, Spanier replied in a follow-up message, "There will not be a new contract. We have an understanding that a contract is not necessary or practical.

"The absence of a contract with a specified number of years does not, however, imply any particular retirement date," he wrote. "We will review the status of the program at the end of the season, as we always do."

Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and Paterno have met twice recently, but this year's discussions have drawn more attention because Paterno's current deal expires.

"The plan is we will visit after the season and do our regular assessment," Curley said in a phone interview Thursday. "I don't look at it as any much different from any other year."

Curley said all sides would continue to talk as needed through the season.

"The contract discussion to me is over," Curley said. "We're just moving forward, the three of us have discussed it, we're real comfortable with it and we're just going to move forward."

Paterno's future is a hot topic in Happy Valley, with the team in the throes of spring practice. He was peppered with questions about his contract during a news conference two weeks ago, though he didn't sound too worried about the situation.

"I don't even care if I get a contract. I'll be very frank with you," Paterno said during the spring practice news conference. "I think the university will do what they think is right, whenever the time comes. Right now, I'm very comfortable."

Paterno later added, "If I've got to have a contract to keep my job here, I'm in the wrong place." He joked he could coach "just another 10 years."

With 372 wins, Paterno is one behind Florida State's Bobby Bowden for most career victories among major college coaches.

"I wish to reiterate my continuing support for Coach Paterno," Spanier wrote at the beginning of his e-mail Wednesday night, adding later that the sides would continue to "maintain open lines of communication."

"Coach Paterno has not sought, nor has the University offered, a new contract for Coach Paterno after his current contract concludes at the end of the 2008 season," he said.

"Our preference is to continue to review the status of the program on an annual basis, and we will next do so at the conclusion" of the upcoming season, he said.

Last month, Curley said there was no timetable to make decisions about Paterno's future.

During a break in a university trustees meeting in January, Spanier had said he expected Paterno to coach in 2008, but that he hadn't had a chance to talk to him. Spanier then declined comment on potential succession plans for Paterno.

Spanier on Wednesday said he had broached that subject with Paterno. The coach reiterated at his news conference that he wouldn't mind seeing someone from his staff follow in his footsteps.

"With regard to succession planning, I want to assure everyone that the three of us are very mindful of the importance of a smooth transition and we are very confident that will occur when we reach that point," Spanier wrote.

Late last year, Florida State signed Bowden, 78, to one more year with an option for another, while also designating offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher as "head coach-in-waiting." Purdue earlier this year also announced that newly hired associate head coach Danny Hope would succeed coach Joe Tiller after the 2008 season.

Spanier said he respected plans announced by other institutions, "but we feel that each university must evaluate its own approach."

"We will be prepared when the time comes, and of course we will identify someone who would continue Penn State's values and traditions, pursuing success in a way that makes us all proud while extending the great reputation we enjoy nationally," Spanier said.