STATE COLLEGE -- With the final year of a four-year contract extension set to expire at the end of the upcoming season and no succession plan in place or another extension being offered, most high-profile football coaches would be getting a bit nervous right about now -- but not Penn State's Joe Paterno.With great uncertainty shrouding the upcoming campaign -- his 58th overall in Happy Valley and a record 43rd as the head coach -- Paterno sounded pretty content and happy-go-lucky last weekend as he discussed his future plans."I have no problem," said the 81-year-old Hall of Famer. "I am not looking for a contract. I'm not looking for anything."Is it as simple and innocent at Paterno claims it all to be, or is an ugly showdown looming? His comments probably came as a shock to many observers who fear the situation could devolve into a nasty power-play between Paterno and Penn State administrators. Paterno met last month with university president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley to discuss the situation, but reportedly, nothing has been decided."What is the urgency? If I wanted a contract, I'd go ask for a contract," said Paterno, who made it clear that he was willing to continue coaching after the 2008 campaign on a year-to-year basis."If I have got to have a contract to keep my job here, I'm in the wrong place."According to numerous sources familiar with the negotiations, Paterno wants to coach at least a couple more years, assuming his health doesn't deteriorate. But the administration would like to pin him down, and set a timetable for his retirement. "I think the future needs to be defined when it has to be defined," Paterno said. "It just doesn't have to be defined today."With 372 career victories, Paterno currently trails Florida State's Bobby Bowden by just one win among major college coaches. But unlike Bowden, there is no succession plan in place at PSU. Paterno claims that handing over the reigns to one of his assistant coaches would be the ideal way to handle his eventual departure, but he just doesn't seem interested in formally doing anything right now. "I really feel good," Paterno said. "My health is not a problem. If it were, I'd be starting to think about getting out of it. I don't want to be a martyr."If I feel like I'm not doing well and I think I can't go on, then obviously I've got to sit down with some people at the university and say, 'Hey, I don't know if I can make this another year and you guys ought to start thinking about what you want to do to replace me.' But we haven't come to that."Things could get ugly if this stalemate continues. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is the obvious choice as an in-house successor, but Paterno is resisting any timetable. And it is unclear if Spanier -- who just received a five-year contract extension that extends his tenure at PSU to 2012 -- favors or opposes any potential replacement that is currently on the coaching staff."I certainly don't expect to announce that I am the guy that is going to make the decision (of a successor) by myself," Paterno said. "I think the university president, Tim Curley and I have to sit down and evaluate where the program is when I decide I am going to get out of it and who is best for the job."Paterno claims that all of the current uncertainty has had no adverse affect on recruiting. But late last month, all-everything quarterback prospect Terrelle Pryor spurned Penn State for Ohio State and said that he would have given the Nittany Lions a closer look if he knew that his primary PSU recruiter, Tom Bradley, was designated as Paterno's successor. Many of the current players, however, claim that they are not paying attention to any of it and that it hasn't been a distraction."Joe is going to be here as long as he wants to," predicted senior wideout Derrick Williams."We came here knowing Joe might not be here," added senior linebacker Sean Lee. "It's been like that for the last 15 years. We now the foundation that he's laid is going to be here when he's gone. They will choose a great coach after him. It's not that big of a deal at all."Granted, Paterno has coached many seasons at Penn State without being under contract and he has never employed an agent. But the current situation is unique due to his advanced age. Last weekend, he made the case that his program is as solid as ever and that he should be allowed to determine how and when he exits from coaching."The only time we got into a little bit of a jam is when we had the two bad years in a row and people got a little nervous," Paterno explained. "I said, 'Relax. We are a couple football players away from being good and if I keep my staff together, we'll be fine. Three years later, we've won 75 percent of our games. Three years ago, I am coach of the year. We were a couple seconds away from playing for the national championship (in 2005). Three straight bowls, three wins."I feel good about what we are doing."Privately, most of the players acknowledge that they just assume somebody like Bradley would take over when Paterno retires. But there is no indication that he is even contemplating an exit. And nobody can even fathom that he would wind up being forced out before he is ready."I love playing for Joe," said senior defensive end Josh Gaines. "He has a lot of energy for a guy that is so old. He's not going anywhere. That's just my opinion."I don't know what he has in mind, but I think he'll be here forever."
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