LOS ANGELES - When Joe Paterno met with the media Friday morning in a small room at the Century City Hyatt, he didn't take long to admit his ongoing physical ailments made it tough for him to enjoy an otherwise, save the Rose Bowl performance, enjoyable 11-2 season.
''I'm glad it's over,'' he said. ''It was frustrating.''
Except for the pride the Nittany Lions showed after falling down 31-7 to a superior Southern Cal team, the Lions played like they were glad it was over, too.
Mirror photo by Teri Enciso Albarano
Penn State fans can count on a dose of Joe Paterno for the 44th straight time this fall.
The Trojans came out with all kinds of exuberance while the stoic Lions did not seem particularly enthusiastic or motivated early.
That could be partially the result of Paterno having spent almost the entire season coaching from the press box and much more removed from the squad than he's ever been.
As was the case during his nine-game stretch upstairs, Paterno did not address the team at halftime, instead sending information through his assistant coaches.
His message at halftime of the Rose Bowl was: ''get hold of a couple kids [team leaders] and tell them we're playing hard, but we're playing stupid.''
Such communication, of course, is not effective. Would this season have been better than 11-2 with Paterno on the sidelines? That's debatable.
What isn't debatable is this: A head coach belongs on the sidelines. A head coach sets the tone emotionally, with his team and the officials.
Paterno's presence - the biggest over the longest time in college football history - could have injected urgency during the fourth quarter at Iowa and the second quarter here.
He doesn't want to give himself that much credit, but he knows his role.
''I don't know if it's important for the team, but it's important for me,'' he said. ''I don't think I could have changed anything because the staff has done a great job all year. [But] you're up there, and there's Pete Carroll barking at the officials and just being around the kids when things started to go bad, you'd like to be able to grab them and try to help.''
Paterno believes his successful hip replacement will allow him to get back to the sidelines next season. He says he's free of the pain that bothered him and made him think the 2008 season might be his last until the surgery was performed Nov. 23.
''I get up in the morning, and I'm fine,'' he said. ''I went most of the last two practices without a motor cart.
But his leg tires, and he knows he couldn't stand up for three-four hours straight. He hopes he'll be able to do it in September.
''It's a question of getting more exercise and walking,'' he said. ''I think I've got the worst behind me now.''
Even so, he's not sure he'll be able to recruit much over the next month because ''the doctors are concerned'' about possible blood clotting from flying in smaller airplanes.
At 82 and having signed a three-year extension that Paterno said could assure recruits he'll be around ''another three-four-five years,'' there will usually be medical concerns.
Paterno joked that his hip is fine but he might ''choke to death'' on all the pills he's taking.
Who knows where all this is heading? The extension allows for either Paterno or the university to shorten or lengthen the contract as either sees fit.
Paterno said he believes his staff will remain intact, unless a head-coaching job - presumably not his - presents itself. To help insure that, PSU has made a financial guarantee to the assistants, believed to be for three more seasons, as well.
''I'm concerned more about the staff, and the university leaned over backwards so nobody had to worry about security,'' Paterno said.
He said one thing that bothered him about the Rose Bowl is all the attention over his status.
''You know what teed me off about this trip - me,'' he said. ''''People running around with cameras wanting to talk to me. I'd rather they talk to the players.''
Until he retires, and JoePa is nave to think otherwise, that's not going to change.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.