JoePa says he’s coming back in 2011

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Joe Paterno plans to return as Penn State coach next season, ending the latest round of speculation about retirement.

The Nittany Lions meet No. 11 Michigan State in the regular-season finale on Saturday, and some fans and members of the media were wondering if this would be the 83-year-old Hall of Famer’s final appearance at Beaver Stadium. Illness slowed him down in the offseason, and the Nittany Lions’ midseason stumbles even had some fans griping for change.

The rumor mill churned anew in recent weeks, but major college football’s winningest coach said Tuesday at Beaver Stadium he hadn’t even given thought to leaving a job he’s held a record 45 seasons.

“I had no intentions, and I’ve never indicated to anybody, including myself, that I was not coming back,” he said on the Big Ten coaches teleconference. “No, it’s always been in my mind that now is not the time to go. I think we’ve got a good young team. They may not be there yet but they will be soon.”

And with Paterno leading them again. He turns 84 on Dec. 21.

“Joe Paterno publicly confirms what we suspected all along — he will be back coaching Penn State in 2011,” son and quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno tweeted.

Speculating about Paterno’s future is an end-of-season ritual in Happy Valley. The 2011 season would be the last year of a three-year extension signed in late 2008.

When asked, Paterno said returning was “entirely my call. … But I would hope that what I want to do would be taken into consideration and go from there.” Paterno’s annual season-in-review meeting with school president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley awaits.

Curley said the immediate focus was on Michigan State.

“We’re glad to hear of coach Paterno’s excitement for next season,” he said in a statement. “We share his optimism about the team’s potential and look forward to our annual postseason discussion with coach Paterno about next year.”

Paterno missed several offseason appearances because of an intestinal issue and a lingering adverse reaction to antibiotics prescribed for dental work. He also cut back on a number of in-season obligations on top of coaching, including taping segments instead of appearing live on a weekly radio show.

Paterno has had trouble hearing at times during media availabilities. On the field, a 3-3 start had a few hardcore blue-and-white backers dusting off the “Joe Must Go” phrase on Internet message boards and radio shows.

But his overall physical health appears to have improved over the grueling season, and Paterno was as energized as ever on Tuesday in exchanging lighthearted verbal jabs with reporters.

Penn State is 4-1 since the .500 start, including a come-from-behind victory earlier this month over Northwestern to secure Paterno’s landmark 400th career victory.

“Awesome! Maybe you guys will leave him alone now,” Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said when told of Paterno was returning. “I’m fired up for coach.”

Paterno said his illness wasn’t serious, and wasn’t a consideration moving forward. The first question posed Tuesday at Beaver Stadium was whether he planned to return next season.

“Yeah, why you know something I don’t know,” he quipped.

“I’m looking forward to it. … We’ve struggled a little bit this year, the youth and the injuries and the whole bit,” Paterno continued. “But I think with a good spring and preseason practice … We’re going to be a good football team, and I’d like to (be) part of it.”

Linebacker Chris Colasanti wasn’t surprised JoePa was returning.

“He’s still vocal and energetic on the field,” Colasanti said. “He still loves to come out and coach, be vocal. … He has fun with it, we see that and we feed off of that.”