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Editorial: Joe Paterno

He'll say when

Few people in sports are entitled to decide how and when they will leave the scene, but Joe Paterno is one of them.

Penn State's football coach had a hip replacement last month and will turn 82 on Sunday, so naturally he just signed a three-year contract extension. Living legends can do that.

(Let's assume this announcement effectively rules out a bid for U.S. Senate, which he'd probably win.)

Paterno also gets to keep his job because he's still successful. The Nittany Lions are 11-1 this year, they're ranked eighth in the nation, and they'll play Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

With his black shoes, white socks and aquarium-sized eyeglasses, JoePa is one of the most recognizable figures in college football today. Next year will mark, incredibly, his 60th year as a Penn State coach (including 16 seasons as an assistant). Not many people can say they've worked at the same company since the Truman administration, especially people who labor in the pressurized, what-have-you-done-lately world of college coaching.

Some of his players have marred Paterno's program through on- and off-campus incidents in recent years. But the long balance sheet of Paterno's career is still weighted heavily toward positive results as a molder of young men.

His agreement with Penn State to coach until he's 85 or so confirms what most people already knew: Joe Paterno is the embodiment of Penn State football. And he's not going anywhere until he's good and ready. Given his virtually unrivaled achievements, that's how it should be.