STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) _ Joe Paterno declared himself ``out'' for Penn State's next game Saturday, designating longtime assistant Tom Bradley to make any tough calls in the school's first contest without the coaching icon since 1977.
Better make the right decisions, though, Tom: Paterno undoubtedly will be watching.
Heeding his doctor's advice, Paterno told his staff Thursday that he would not be at Beaver Stadium for Saturday's game against Temple. The 79-year-old coach had surgery Sunday to repair a fractured shinbone and two torn knee ligaments in his left leg, injuries sustained in a sideline collision in a loss last week to Wisconsin.
His left leg fitted with a temporary brace, Paterno spoke with his assistants Thursday morning during a meeting at his Mount Nittany Medical Center room.
``You guys know what you're doing and what I want enough that I don't need to be there creating a huge distraction Saturday,'' he told them, according to a team statement. ``Enough on me; let's get back to football.''
Paterno remained in good condition Thursday and was described by a team spokesman, Guido D'Elia, to be in good spirits, his recovery from surgery proceeding well.
Paterno is eager to check out, though he won't be released until team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli is satisfied with the progress of his recovery. So it's unclear whether Paterno will watch his squad Saturday from home or from his room at the hospital, just down the street from the stadium.
The coach ``just realized he's got to be proactive,'' D'Elia said, ``that in this condition it wasn't safe to be out and about.''
So JoePa and his rolled-up khakis will be missing from the Penn State sideline for the first time since 1977, when he missed a game after his son, David, was involved in an accident. Paterno also missed a game as an assistant in 1955 after his father died.
At least one thing hasn't changed: Paterno wants to win.
His sights are set on a New Year's Day bowl game in Florida, a destination that Penn State can likely lock up if they beat Temple on Saturday, and Michigan State in the regular-season finale on Nov. 18. A decision on whether Paterno can coach against the Spartans from a coach's box high above Beaver Stadium will be made next week.
Doctors have said Paterno might be allowed to coach from the sidelines for a bowl game as long as his recovery is going well and he can stay off his feet. It might be six weeks until Paterno can again put weight on the left leg.
``Let's take a look at the big picture of what could lie ahead ... get the next two,'' Paterno told his staff.
Bradley, the team's defensive coordinator, and offensive coordinator Galen Hall will oversee their units. The school didn't name an acting head coach, though Bradley, an assistant to Paterno for 28 years, will make any tough decisions come game-time.
``If a game decision needs to made beyond that, talk it out and if you can't agree, Tom will be the tiebreaker, because he has been around the longest,'' Paterno said.
The architect of Penn State's stingy defense, the outgoing and energetic Bradley is a whirl of activity on the sidelines, his arms often waving wildly.
He might be considered the top internal candidate to take over the Nittany Lions once Paterno steps down. Paterno, who turns 80 next month, is under contract for another two years.
Team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli has said he expect Paterno to return next year. Paterno's son and quarterbacks coach, Jay, said earlier this week that his father has every intention of returning in 2007.
Paterno has 360 career wins, four behind Florida State's Bobby Bowden for the top spot among major college coaches.