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Paterno Plans to Return

The New York Times
November 18, 2008
By Mark Viera

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State Coach Joe Paterno has said he will probably need hip-replacement surgery after the season to fix the leg problems that have forced him to walk with a cane and to coach from the press box. But Paterno said an operation should not stop him from returning for his 44th season as head coach.

In fact, he said Tuesday, he hopes to coach again from the sideline after the procedure.

"I want to get back on the field," Paterno, 81, said at his weekly news conference. "I expect to be back on the field."

Paterno's injury problems started in August, when he injured his right leg attempting an onside kick in practice. He has been hobbled all season, and he said he was also suffering from arthritis in his right hip. He coached the entire game from the press box for the first time on Oct. 4, when Penn State faced Purdue, and has not returned to the field during a game since.

Paterno has offered little clarity about the specific nature of the leg injuries, or what plans are in the works for an operation. On Tuesday, he said the decision to have surgery could come later this week or early next week.

Eighth-ranked Penn State (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) plays its final regular-season game Saturday against No. 15 Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) in a meeting that will help decide the conference champion. Paterno should be ready to rejoin the Nittany Lions for a bowl appearance, if he has the operation soon after Saturday's game.

Dr. Wayne G. Paprosky, a hip-replacement specialist, said some patients were able to walk within a matter of hours after surgery but usually required a cane or a walker for up to four weeks afterward.

"If he hasn't been on the field because of the hip pain, you can say, 'What's he got to lose?' He'll be out of pain in the press box," Paprosky, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said in a telephone interview. "And if everything goes perfect, maybe he's on the field" for the bowl game.

As Penn State prepares for its finale this weekend, there have been questions in Happy Valley about whether Paterno will coach his last game at Beaver Stadium because of his ailing leg and the uncertainty surrounding his expiring contract.

Paterno wanted none of that talk Tuesday when asked how his health had affected his coaching future. "Please, let's get off that," he said. "I haven't even thought of all that."

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