UNIVERSITY PARK - Joe Paterno has been adamant about his desire to return for the 2011 season.
Whether all of his assistants remain at his side, however, is less certain.
Paterno admitted Friday, "I don't know what's going to happen with the staff."
Two of its most respected members and recruiters, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, have had their names come up in connection with openings at Pitt and Ball State, respectively.
These things don't happen without the consent of the people involved. The assistants were not made available during PSU's Outback Bowl media day on Friday, but both were at practice, and Vanderlinden had a particular bounce in his step.
He spent a few moments talking one-on-one with JoePa.
"I think some opportunities have come about," Paterno said. "Some of them will look into them. Whether there's anything good enough for them or not, they'll have to make that decision."
Galen Hall has said he'll coach as long as Paterno and, if necessary, JoePa can presumably convince Dick Anderson to stay as well. Some probably don't see that as overly positive, but Paterno can best and maybe only function with a familiar cast.
"I hate to lose any of them," he said. "I think we have a good staff. I think they proved that this year when we had to go through a lot of adversity. I would hope we can keep them all. But, you know, people have to make decisions and do what's best for them and their families."
Presuming JoePa is back for 2011 - and given his health, that's still a big if - his assistants have to be wondering if and where they'll be coaching in 2012.
Paterno's health has improved since August, but he'll be 84 on Dec. 21. While his hearing is on and off - it was better Friday - he was so hoarse that he sounded like Rocky's corner man, Burgess Meredith. Asked about it, he said he's had a cold for six weeks, adding, "it sounds worse than it is."
Standing in the frigid temperatures against Michigan State for four hours probably didn't help, but to JoePa, it's apparently therapy.
The assistants are under contract for 18 more months, guaranteeing some financial severance regardless, but Paterno can sense uncertainty which could even result in lateral moves.
"We may find ourselves in a position where some of the guys may have opportunities to go other places," he said. "Hopefully, I wouldn't lose anybody as an assistant coach. I would hope the situation here was good enough that he wouldn't leave [unless it's to be a head coach]."
But either kind of departure would force him to fill the vacancy, and despite his decorated kingdom, how many proven assistants would be anxious to join him at this late stage? The last two hirings Paterno made were Mike McQueary and Kermit Buggs, convenient picks because they were down the hall as PSU graduate assistants.
If the staff changes much because assistants are concerned about their future or tired waiting or both, that could disrupt JoePa's comfort zone and possibly hasten the inevitable. He knows he can't expect much more loyalty than he's received from his staff's collective 150-plus years of experience.
"People have to live their lives," he said. "[Penn State] is a pretty nice place to work. It's a good place to live. I would hope that we would be able to keep all our people. But I can't guarantee that. Whatever's best for them is best for all of us."
Amen. Even if JoePa's future is not defined, his assistants deserve theirs to be.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.