After another question not directly related to the prospects for the 2008 season, Joe Paterno turned from pensive Joe to rally-before-the-big-game Joe, with a pinch of annoyed Joe thrown in for good measure.
The Penn State coach was at the Radisson in King of Prussia yesterday for a Nittany Lion Club fund-raiser, and, as he does at this annual event, Paterno met with reporters.
"What do you guys want to talk about?" Paterno asked.
The topics seemingly centered on off-the-field issues: Paterno's contract, recruiting, suspended players, and even the team's choice for its senior captains.
Still, the 81-year-old coach did manage to at least tip his hand on the most important on-the-field question: Who is going to be the starting quarterback?
Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin are the candidates, and the two seemed comparable at the Blue-White game. The coach doesn't expect to make a decision until the preseason, and Paterno hasn't ruled out an occasional platoon, but it's looking more likely as if Clark will get the initial nod.
"Obviously, people got him ahead of the pack, and I think it probably ought to be that way," Paterno said. "But Devlin and [probable third-stringer Paul] Cianciola are both good football players."
However, after too many queries of the off-the-field nature, Paterno decided to wrap up the tête-à-tête with the sort of screech he gives the student body whenever the program calls for a Rally in the Valley.
"I'm sick and tired of talking about this, that and the other thing, to be very frank with you," Paterno said. "We got a tough schedule, a good football team, and we're going to have a lot of fun and you guys all should be excited!"
He then slammed his fist down on the table. "Right?!" Paterno squealed.
Indeed, the Lions do return 17 starters from a squad that went 9-4 with an Alamo Bowl win. But with the iconic coach in the last year of his contract, with no assurances that he will be back for the 2010 season, it's hard to avoid the tenuousness of the situation.
For one, it's not yet apparent how the uncertainty will affect recruiting. Yesterday, Penn State bagged two commitments at its camp, bringing the early count for the Class of 2009 to five. One recruit had orally committed to Ohio State, only to switch to the Lions.
Still, it's a hard sell for Penn State.
"My coaches go in and tell the kid what life's all about at Penn State and whether we have a good opportunity for them - what we expect from them and what they should expect from us," Paterno said. "And if one kid says, 'Well, is Coach Paterno going to be there?' Call me up."
Paterno tells them the same thing he's told recruits for more than two decades: "I don't know whether I'm going to be here the three, four, five years you're going to be here, but I feel great and I'm intending to coach as long as I feel good," Paterno said.
As for the five indefinitely suspended players - defensive tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor, linebacker Navorro Bowman, tight end Andrew Quarless, and defensive back Knowledge Timmons - their status remains the same. They were recently permitted to work out with the team. With exams over, a decision on their future could be forthcoming.
"They've never practiced," Paterno said. "And I've told all of them until I see their grades their not going to practice."
All five are dealing with or have dealt with arrests over the last year or so.
Last April, senior safety Anthony Scirrotto, of West Deptford, Gloucester County, was at the center of a brawl in an off-campus apartment involving a dozen or more players. He was initially charged with two felony counts, but agreed to plead to a lesser misdemeanor charge of defiant trespass in February.
Scirrotto, though, was one of five captains selected by the team last month. Paterno said he did not hesitate to rubber-stamp that choice.
"I had no problem with that," he said.