He enters the 2009 football season with a new three-year contract, a new hip, and the same old passion to mold a bunch of young men into a team that will compel the experts to add its name to the national championship conversation.
Driven as ever at age 82, coach Joe Paterno will watch over the opening of Penn State's preseason practice tomorrow, officially kicking off his 44th season at the helm of the Nittany Lions. This also marks his 60th year in Happy Valley, back to the time when Rip Engle persuaded the young Brown University graduate to pass on law school and become an assistant coach.
But Paterno has no time to observe milestones. He has spent the days and weeks leading up to tomorrow trying to evaluate personnel and fill some of the holes left by the departure of 14 starters from last year's team that went 11-2 and won the Big Ten title.
Paterno underwent hip-replacement surgery after the final game of the 2008 regular season and signed a three-year contract extension a short time later that will take him through the 2011 season.
Questions about the contract loomed last season like a stubborn fog, but now that they're out of the way, it's time for football. Here are five questions facing Paterno as the Lions prepare for their season opener Sept. 5 against Akron:
Can they put a "Do Not Touch" sign on Daryll Clark?
Talk about scary. Clark, who made first team all-Big Ten last season after beating out the now-departed Pat Devlin for the starting quarterback job, is backed by two guys who never have taken a snap in a varsity game.
True freshman Kevin Newsome enrolled in January so he had the benefit of spring drills. Redshirt freshman Matt McGloin impressed with his performance in the Blue-White game. Neither, however, is close to game-ready.
Clark ran the ball 79 times (counting sacks) last season, including 10 touchdowns, but he suffered a concussion - the third of his career - against Ohio State. He said he would be sensible this season when carrying the ball, admitting, "I've got to live to fight another down."
What will the Lions do on the offensive line, at wide receiver, and in the secondary?
To keep Clark upright, the Nittany Lions have to find replacements for three all-Big Ten linemen who are now in NFL training camps. Paterno fixed one spot by sliding guard Stefen Wisniewski over to center, but he needs to find a left tackle who can protect Clark's blind side, plus a pair of guards.
The Lions lost three top-shelf receivers from last year who accounted for 132 catches, 1,932 yards, and 17 touchdowns. The top returning wideout is 6-foot-6 junior Brett Brackett, who caught 13 balls. While there is talent at the position, it's mostly unproven.
Departures in the secondary may not be missed as much after USC's Mark Sanchez shredded the unit in the Rose Bowl. Paterno said he needed to find one more good cover guy at cornerback. Senior corner A.J. Wallace got himself in the doghouse for missing some summer classes but appears to be OK.
Who will replace Kevin Kelly?
Kelly, who went to Penn State from Neshaminy High, booted a Big Ten record 78 field goals in his career and succeeded on nearly 73 percent of his attempts during his reliable four-year run.
He could be succeeded by another kicker with area roots - freshman Anthony Fera, who was born in Philadelphia but graduated from a high school in Houston. Fera impressed coaches in the spring with his leg strength.
Who can make an immediate impact?
The Nittany Lions had four freshmen enroll early. Two of them, Fera and free safety Gerald Hodges of Paulsboro, have the tools to see big-time action right away.
Another former area high school star, defensive end Jack Crawford of St. Augustine Prep, played in every game last year as a freshman and is tracking a starting berth. Versatile sophomore wide receiver Chaz Powell will get a chance to run, catch, and return in the same way that made Derrick Williams so successful.
Can the Lions have a drama-free season?
Paterno certainly hopes so. "That phone rings on Sunday morning and I shake," he said at last month's Big Ten media day.
The Lions' latest two players in hot water are backup offensive lineman Ako Poti and promising freshman linebacker Glenn Carson, both of whom were charged with alcohol-related offenses.
Paterno said defensive lineman Abe Koroma, who was suspended for three games last year for marijuana possession, has personal problems and probably will skip this season, which hurts the Lions' rotation with their interior defense.