As Joe Paterno has aged and admittedly delegated more and more responsibilities to his assistant coaches over the years, the word "figurehead" has increasingly been used to describe his relationship with the program. Depending upon how Penn State is doing on the field, that word can carry a positive or negative tone, but it has nevertheless been present for a while now.
With news that he's continuing to cut back his public appearance schedule this summer, though, and reports including this one form State College.com's Mike Poorman on his increased activity in other areas, one must wonder if that's a tag Paterno is comfortable with or even attempting to shed.
Given this and the 84-year old's decision to cut back on public appearances, it would appear Paterno is making a concerted effort to get more involved with the team this season, a group he admitted after the Outback Bowl he could have done a better job coaching. That's not to say he'll approach the level of involvement he acheived 10 years ago, let alone in his prime, but you have to think he believes he has something left to give beyond handshakes at an "Evening With Joe" event in Pittsburgh or pithy comments at a press conferences.
By accounts of several folks -- plural -- who were at team drills this spring in Holuba Hall, Joe was much more active than last year. Maybe the past few years.
He mixed it up with the players, got into the flow of things, was very hands-on. A year ago, he was cautious, standing back away from the drills.
Whether or not Paterno can make an impact on the 2011 team remains to be seen. It's becoming clear, though, that he recognizes the need for a new direction following last season's disappointing 7-6 finish and wants to be part of that change. While some might frame him as little more than a mascot patrolling the Penn State sidelines, it would appear JoePa is determined to prove his critics wrong once again this fall by taking his focus away from being the face of Penn State football and putting it on making the Nitany Lions a better team.