CAMP HILL, Pa. — In recent weeks, Joe Paterno has watched his team unfold both for the upcoming season and for the future.
While the future of the 81-year old coach is still a tad murky beyond the final season of his contract, Paterno said Saturday he still doesn't feel that situation will have a negative impact on the Class of 2009 or on the program in general.
Paterno, along with Penn State baseball coach Robbie Wine, men's basketball coach Ed DeChellis, and several Nittany Lion football and basketball players, were in town to speak at the annual Nittany Lion Club dinner at the Radisson Hotel in Camp Hill.
The event was expected to draw from 600 to 700 alumni.
Paterno spoke to reporters for nearly 30 minutes before tackling the alumni, touching on array of issues, including his contract, recruiting and also the decision of Southeastern Conference coaches to vote for an early signing period.
The hottest off-season topic, though, remains Paterno's contract and what effect it will have on the upcoming season and subsequent recruiting class.
There's also the matter of legal issues that are finally cleared up. Just last week defensive tackle Phil Taylor and linebacker Navarro Bowman accepted plea deals for their roles in a campus fight last October.
"So far it hasn't (had a negative effect)," Paterno said. "(Recruits) understand that we've had a couple of kids that got themselves into situations they shouldn't have, but really I think things have gone well. We've been well received. There are three, four or five kids that are really close to making a decision in the next couple of weeks and if we get three or four of those we'll be on our way to having a really good year."
Paterno, per NCAA rules, is not allowed to discuss recruits until they have signed with Penn State next February. It's expected the Lions are a favorite of California quarterback Tate Forcier and could hear from him sometime over the next month. They currently have 11 verbal commitments.
Paterno said his contract talk should not be a focal point for kids interested in attending Penn State.
"I think for the last 15 years my emphasis has been on the kind of staff we have, the tradition we have, not necessarily where we get into who's going to be running the show," Paterno said.
"I just feel as if a kid ought to look at a place, and I tell them all, 'Don't get caught up with the facilities, although our facilities are as good as anybody's. Get a feel for the people, get a feel for the squad, get a feel for whether you can get done the things you want to get done academically.'
And I try to tell them as honestly as I can, he continued. I don't want to be a used car salesmen. We're dealing with a young man's life and we'd like to present the situation as honestly as we can. I often say it's like getting married. You can tell your bride-to-be a few lies, but you've got to live with her, so you've got to be careful.
Paterno also addressed the SEC coaches' decision to vote for an early signing period for recruiting.
"I don't like it," he said. "I don't like it only because I go back to the fact that when I was working for (former PSU coach) Rip Engle, Rip used to say all the time when we'd get all wrapped up in talking about recruits, he'd say, 'Let's take care of the guys we have here first and then we go out recruiting.'
"Early signing dates bother me because you've got to have your official visits during the season. You're playing a big game. I don't want to be bothered, really. We do a terrible job when kids come up for official visits for a game."
Though the legal issues have cleared up, they are still somewhat of a distraction for Paterno. But the veteran coach said it's now up to the players involved if they want to continue on as members of the Nittany Lion football team.
"I'm tired of it," Paterno said. "I really am. I think it's taken away from a bunch of kids that have worked hard in our winter program, spring practice and are out there this summer with the idea that we're going to have a good football team with or without those kids. And I think it's up to them (if) they belong on the team.
"I'm certainly not going to crucify them. I wasn't an angel and I'm not going to say that a kid can't make a mistake when he's 19 or 20 years old. I want to give him a chance, take a good look at what happened and learn from it, and fight his way back and be part of the team, if that's what he wants to do. Now if he wants to horse around, then of course he's going to eliminate himself."
Paterno said he has enjoyed the Nittany Lion Club stops and other stops this off-season, despite his minor setback with dehydration several weeks ago. He was rushed to the hospital but released the same day.
"I have a little fun with everybody," Paterno said. "As long as they don't get too serious. I'll get too many questions 'Why didn't you do this or do that.' But even those can be fun.
"I like it. I see people I don't get to see often.
"They're fans, and if you don't have fans, what have you got? So many of them they drive up to State College every football game and spend a lot of money and root and cheer and die for you. And if you can come around every once in a while and spend time with them, that's part of the job."
Among other topics Paterno discussed:
He's still not ready to make a determination about a starting quarterback, and still maintains it's a three-man race between Daryll Clark, Pat Devlin and Paul Cianciolo. Paterno added that Cianciolo has been on and off campus doing internships this summer. Paterno said each has little details they must address to gain an edge over the othera.
"I think we're fortunate to have three," Paterno said. "I think they're three good prospects. Two of course are younger than Paul and Paul has not quit on himself. He's still working hard. He's smart."
On the ACL injury to linebacker Sean Lee that will force him to redshirt in 2008: "He's around all the time," Paterno said. "(He's) down in the weight room and he's doing whatever he can physically. But he's got to be careful because he's the kind of kid that could over-do it and (that) could set him back. He seemed to be OK mentally."
Paterno added that it's sometimes hard to read Lee because he is so positive.
Paterno said he worries about everything with regard to his team, saying the losses of players like Lee, Dan Connor and Justin King force him to sweat the details. But "that's part of the game. Guys like Connor are going to graduate, King's going to graduate."
The coach's busy schedule is still intact. He attended Saturday's event in Camp Hill. Sunday is was slated to be at a brunch for a former player then speak at a memorial service for a friend. In July he will attend his College Hall of Fame enshrinement in South Bend, Ind., and the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago.