AP interviews: Most fans back JoePa’s return

Barry Rake has been a Penn State season-ticket holder since 1964

– or two years before Joe Paterno took over as head coach.

Rake isn’t ready for JoePa to call it quits, either, so he

welcomed the Hall of Fame coach saying this week that he was

staying on the sideline in 2011.

”Maybe the university feels the program is slipping a bit

because of his age,” Rake said, ”but when you look at what he’s

done for Penn State University and Penn State football, he’s just

earned that right to decide when he wants to stop.”

The majority of fans interviewed by The Associated Press before

Saturday’s 28-22 loss to No. 11 Michigan State voiced similar

support for Paterno. When asked earlier in the week at his weekly

news conference, Paterno said he planned to return for his record

46th season – and that retiring was never an option.

But a 3-3 start to the season and an offseason illness sparked

the latest round of retirement rumors for major college football’s

victory leader – a late-season ritual in Happy Valley. Next season

would be the last of a three-year deal agreed to with the

university in 2008, and both sides have said Paterno’s tenure could

be adjusted on a year-to-year basis.

”And if you know Joe, you know he’ll want to fill out his

contract,” Rake said.

Alex Cohen, a Penn State senior and president of the

”Paternoville” student group that camps out at the stadium before

home games, also backed Paterno.

”He’s going to retire when he wants to retire,” Cohen said.

”He could stay here a billion years if he wants. I think he’s

earned that.”

A few fans disagreed with Penn State finishing the regular

season 7-5.

”At this point, he’s having trouble recruiting the top

talent,” said Rick Gordon, of Hammondsport, N.Y., whose daughter

is a sophomore at the school. ”We should get a big name coach in

here, let Joe be athletic director or some other figurehead, and

let another guy take over. It’s about time.”

The larger question for Penn State in the future might be what

to do after Paterno. He has said he isn’t in favor of a publicized

succession plan, though the defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is

often rumored as a potential successor.

Barry Lyons, 47, of Pittsburgh, has attended every home finale

since 1985. He wants Paterno to come back ”as long as he’s healthy

enough to do it.”

”He’s got to be the judge of that, him and his family,” Lyons

said. ”He’s been great for the university, and still, they’re

competitive. I’m all fine with him coming back.”