Joe Paterno

  • Born: December 21, 1926
  • Died: January 22, 2012
  • Location: State College, Pennsylvania

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Penn State coach Joe Paterno watches the college football game against Youngstown State from the side lines Saturday, Sept. 16, 2006, in State College, Pa.

Penn State coach dies at 85

GENARO C. ARMAS, The Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Happy Valley was perfect for Joe Paterno, a place where "JoePa" knew best, where he not only won more football games than any other major college coach, but won them the right way: with integrity and sportsmanship. A place where character came first, championships second.

Behind it all, however, was an ugly secret that ran counter to everything the revered coach stood for.

Paterno, a sainted figure at Penn State for almost half a century but scarred forever by the child sex abuse scandal that brought his career to a stunning end, died Sunday at age 85.

His death came just over two months after his son Scott announced on Nov. 18 that his father had been diagnosed with a treatable form of lung cancer. The cancer was found during a follow-up visit for a bronchial illness. A few weeks later, Paterno broke his pelvis after a fall but did not need surgery.

Paterno had been in the hospital since Jan. 13 for observation after what his family called minor complications from his cancer treatments. Not long before that, he conducted his only interview since losing his job, with The Washington Post. Paterno was described as frail then, speaking mostly in a whisper and wearing a wig. The second half of the two-day interview was conducted at his bedside.

His family released a statement Sunday morning to announce his death: "His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled."

"He died as he lived," the statement said. "He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been. His ambitions were far reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them. He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community."

Two police officers were stationed to block traffic on the street where Paterno's modest ranch home stands next to a local park. The officers said the family had asked there be no public gathering outside the house, still decorated with a Christmas wreath, so Paterno's relatives could grieve privately. And, indeed, the street was quiet on a cold winter day.

Paterno's sons, Scott and Jay, arrived separately at the house late Sunday morning. Jay Paterno, who served as his father's quarterbacks coach, was crying.

Paterno built a program based on the credo of "Success with Honor," and he found both. The man known as "JoePa" won 409 games and took the Nittany Lions to 37 bowl games and two national championships. More than 250 of the players he coached went on to the NFL.

"He will go down as the greatest football coach in the history of the game," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said after his former team, the Florida Gators, beat Penn State 37-24 in the 2011 Outback Bowl.

Paterno roamed the sidelines for 46 seasons, his thick-rimmed glasses, windbreaker and jet-black sneakers as familiar as the Nittany Lions' blue and white uniforms. He won 409 games and two national championships.

The reputation he built looked even more impressive because he insisted on keeping graduation rates high while maintaining on-field success.

But in the middle of his 46th season, the legend was shattered. Paterno was engulfed in a child sex abuse scandal when a former trusted assistant, Jerry Sandusky, was accused of molesting 10 boys over a 15-year span, sometimes in the football building.

Paterno at first said he was fooled. But outrage built quickly when the state's top cop said the coach hadn't fulfilled a moral obligation to go to the authorities when a graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, told Paterno he saw Sandusky with a young boy in the showers of the football complex in 2002.

At a preliminary hearing for the school officials, McQueary testified that he had seen Sandusky attacking the child with his hands around the boy's waist but said he wasn't 100 percent sure it was intercourse. McQueary described Paterno as shocked and saddened and said the coach told him he'd "done the right thing" by reporting the encounter.

Paterno waited a day before alerting school officials but never went to the police.

"I didn't know which way to go ... and rather than get in there and make a mistake," Paterno said in the Post interview.

"You know, (McQueary) didn't want to get specific," Paterno said. "And to be frank with you I don't know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it."

When the scandal erupted in November, Paterno said he would retire following the 2011 season. He also said he was "absolutely devastated" by the abuse case.

"This is a tragedy," he said. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

But the university trustees faced a crisis, and in an emergency meeting that night, they fired Paterno, effective immediately. Graham Spanier, one of the longest-serving university presidents in the nation, also was fired.

Paterno was notified by phone, not in person, a decision that board vice chairman John Surma later regretted, according to Lanny Davis, an attorney retained by the trustees as an adviser.

The university handed the football team to one of Paterno's assistants, Tom Bradley, who said Paterno "will go down in history as one of the greatest men, who maybe most of you know as a great football coach."

"As the last 61 years have shown, Joe made an incredible impact," said the statement from the family. "That impact has been felt and appreciated by our family in the form of thousands of letters and well wishes along with countless acts of kindness from people whose lives he touched. It is evident also in the thousands of successful student athletes who have gone on to multiply that impact as they spread out across the country."

New Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien, hired earlier this month, also offered his condolences.

"The Penn State Football program is one of college football's iconic programs because it was led by an icon in the coaching profession in Joe Paterno," O'Brien said in a statement. "There are no words to express my respect for him as a man and as a coach. To be following in his footsteps at Penn State is an honor. Our families, our football program, our university and all of college football have suffered a great loss, and we will be eternally grateful for Coach Paterno's immeasurable contributions."

Paterno believed success was not measured entirely on the field. From his idealistic early days, he had implemented what he called a "grand experiment" — to graduate more players while maintaining success on the field.

He was a frequent speaker on ethics in sports, a conscience for a world often infiltrated by scandal and shady characters.

The team consistently ranked among the best in the Big Ten for graduating players. As of 2011, it had 49 academic All-Americans, the third-highest among schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision. All but two played under Paterno.

"He teaches us about really just growing up and being a man," former linebacker Paul Posluszny, now with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, once said. "Besides the football, he's preparing us to be good men in life."

Paterno certainly had detractors. One former Penn State professor called his high-minded words on academics a farce, and a former administrator said players often got special treatment. His coaching style often was considered too conservative. Some thought he held on to his job too long, and a move to push him out in 2004 failed.

But the critics were in the minority, and his program was never cited for major NCAA violations. The child sex abuse scandal, however, did prompt separate investigations by the U.S. Department of Education and the NCAA into the school's handling.

Paterno played quarterback and defensive back for Brown University and set a defensive record with 14 career interceptions, a distinction he still boasted about to his teams in his 80s. He graduated in 1950 with plans to go to law school. He said his father hoped he would someday be president.

But when Paterno was 23, a former coach at Brown was moving to Penn State to become the head coach and persuaded Paterno to come with him as an assistant.

"I had no intention to coach when I got out of Brown," Paterno said in 2007 in an interview at Penn State's Beaver Stadium before being inducted into college football's Hall of Fame. "Come to this hick town? From Brooklyn?"

In 1963, he was offered a job by the late Al Davis — $18,000, triple his salary at Penn State, plus a car to become general manager and coach of the AFL's Oakland Raiders. He said no. Rip Engle retired as Penn State head coach three years later, and Paterno took over.

At the time, the Lions were considered "Eastern football" — inferior — and Paterno courted newspaper coverage to raise the team's profile. In 1967, PSU began a 30-0-1 streak.

But Penn State couldn't get to the top of the polls. The Lions finished second in 1968 and 1969 despite perfect seasons. They were undefeated and untied again in 1973 at 12-0 again but finished fifth. Texas edged them in 1969 after President Richard Nixon, impressed with the Longhorns' bowl performance, declared them No. 1.

"I'd like to know," Paterno said later, "how could the president know so little about Watergate in 1973, and so much about college football in 1969?"

A national title finally came in 1982, after a 27-23 win over Georgia at the Sugar Bowl. Another followed in 1986 after the Lions picked off Vinny Testaverde five times and beat Miami 14-10 in the Fiesta Bowl.

They made several title runs after that, including a 2005 run to the Orange Bowl and an 11-1 season in 2008 that ended in a 37-23 loss to Southern California in the Rose Bowl.

In his later years, physical ailments wore the old coach down.

Paterno was run over on the sideline during a game at Wisconsin in November 2006 and underwent knee surgery. He hurt his hip in 2008 demonstrating an onside kick. An intestinal illness and a bad reaction to antibiotics prescribed for dental work slowed him for most of the 2010 season. He began scaling back his speaking engagements that year, ending his summer caravan of speeches to alumni across the state.

Then a receiver bowled over Paterno at practice in August, sending him to the hospital with shoulder and pelvis injuries and consigning him to coach much of what would be his last season from the press box.

"The fact that we've won a lot of games is that the good Lord kept me healthy, not because I'm better than anybody else," Paterno said two days before he won his 409th game and passed Eddie Robinson of Grambling State for the most in Division I. "It's because I've been around a lot longer than anybody else."

Paterno could be conservative on the field, especially in big games, relying on the tried-and-true formula of defense, the running game and field position.

"They've been playing great defense for 45 years," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said in November.

Paterno and his wife, Sue, raised five children in State College. Anybody could telephone him at his modest ranch home — the same one he appeared in front of on the night he was fired — by looking up "Paterno, Joseph V." in the phone book.

He walked to home games and was greeted and wished good luck by fans on the street. Former players paraded through his living room for the chance to say hello. But for the most part, he stayed out of the spotlight.

Paterno did have a knack for jokes. He referred to Twitter, the social media site, as "Twittle-do, Twittle-dee."

He also could be abrasive and stubborn, and he had his share of run-ins with his bosses or administrators. And as his legend grew, so did the attention to his on-field decisions, and the questions about when he would hang it up.

Calls for his retirement reached a crescendo in 2004. The next year, Penn State went 11-1 and won the Big Ten. In the Orange Bowl, PSU beat Florida State, whose coach, Bobby Bowden, was eased out after the 2009 season after 34 years and 389 wins.

Like many others, he was outlasted by "JoePa."

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Reaction to the death of Joe Paterno
The Associated Press, The Associated Press

Reactions to the death of longtime Penn State coach Joe Paterno:

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"He died as he lived. He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been. His ambitions were far-reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them. He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community." — Paterno family.

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"History will say that he's one of the greatest. Who's coached longer, who's coached better, who's won more games, who's been more successful than Joe? Who's done more for his university than Joe? You've lost one of the greatest. He probably means the same thing up there that Bear Bryant meant down here. He's an icon." — retired Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.

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"The Penn State football program is one of college football's iconic programs because it was led by an icon in the coaching profession in Joe Paterno. ... To be following in his footsteps at Penn State is an honor." Penn State coach Bill O'Brien.

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"You could have become a good football player at many places but you wouldn't have become the man you are if you didn't go to Penn State." — former Penn State running back Mike Guman.

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"My first thoughts about Joe are not as a coach because he was well beyond that. He was an educator and a teacher. He taught lessons, some about football, mostly about life. He taught us how to treat others and how to conduct life. He did it with his life." — former Penn State linebacker Matt Millen.

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"Whenever you recruited or played against Joe, you knew how he operated and that he always stood for the right things. Of course, his longevity over time and his impact on college football is remarkable. Anybody who knew Joe feels badly about the circumstances. I suspect the emotional turmoil of the last few weeks might have played into it." — Nebraska athletic director and former coach Tom Osborne.

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"We came to Penn State as young kids and when we left there we were men and the reason for that was Joe Paterno." — Lydell Mitchell, a star running back at Penn State from 1968 to 1972.

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"It's just sad because I think he died from other things than lung cancer. I don't think that the Penn State that he helped us to become and all the principles and values and things that he taught were carried out in the handling of his situation." — Mickey Shuler, a Penn State tight end from 1975 to 1977.

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"His influence on me personally was a lot more far-reaching than the playing field. ... Coach Paterno should be remembered and revered for his 61 years of service to the Penn State community, the many games and championships he won, and the positive influence he was." — Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny, who played at Penn State linebacker from 2003 to 2006.

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"I talked to him on his birthday (Dec. 21). He was a great man and a great friend. He lived by the rules. He made sure his players got good grades. He was about more than just football." — George Perles, who coached against Paterno at Michigan State.

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"We grieve for the loss of Joe Paterno, a great man who made us a greater university. His dedication to ensuring his players were successful both on the field and in life is legendary and his commitment to education is unmatched." — Penn State board of trustees and university President Rodney Erickson.

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"His legacy as the winningest coach in major college football and his generosity to Penn State as an institution and to his players, stand as monuments to his life. As both man and coach, Joe Paterno confronted adversities, both past and present, with grace and forbearance. His place in our state's history is secure." — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.

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"(During recruiting,) Paterno was the only coach that didn't talk about football. He talked about life and what life had to offer at State College. While I did not go there and went to Michigan State, he was the only coach to call me and wish me luck." — former Michigan State wide receiver Nigea Carter.

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"I've coached around 300 college games and only once when I've met the other coach at midfield prior to the game have I asked a photographer to take a picture of me with the other coach. That happened in the Citrus Bowl after the '97 season when we were playing Penn State." — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.

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"He was a tremendous teacher not because he knew all of the answers but because he challenged us to find the answers for ourselves. ... His spirit will live on in all of us who had the great honor of knowing him and running out of the tunnel with him on so many autumn Saturdays." — Paterno assistant and former Penn State interim head coach Tom Bradley.

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"This is a sad day! ... Joe preached toughness, hard work and clean competition. Most importantly, he had the courage to practice what he preached. Nobody will be able to take away the memories we all shared of a great man, his family, and all the wonderful people who were a part of his life." — retired Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who faces child sex abuse allegations, which he has denied, in the case that led to the firing of Paterno.

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"When you think of college football and its tradition, you can't help but picture those dark glasses, black shoes and plain uniforms that were his style and mark on Penn State." — Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville.

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"We came to football games just to see Joe Paterno on the sideline when we were students. He was the reason we attended so much." — Jamie Bloom, Penn State class of '92.

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"Few people are responsible for building something that will last forever. ... Coach Paterno was first and foremost an educator, whose immeasurable contributions to Penn State, the coaching profession and the entirety of college sports, will be felt permanently. That is the legacy of a great leader." — Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.

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"There could not have been a better experience than learning how to teach and coach the game than being around Joe Paterno and the Penn State program. Not only did I get a great education in the classrooms at Penn State, but I also learned lessons as part of the football program there that I continue to use today as part of my coaching career." — Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni, Penn State class of '72.

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"I would tell people not to forget what that guy has done. To coach for 60 years in one place, that just won't ever happen again. I didn't get to coach against him. But I got to coach in the Big Ten, sit next to him at a meeting and have my picture taken with him. That's something I will never forget." — Minnesota coach Jerry Kill.

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"I've known Coach Paterno since I started coaching. ... It's a very sad day, and with his passing, we have lost one of the greatest coaches our game, and all sports, will ever have. He leaves us with great stories, memories and records that may never be broken." — Texas coach Mack Brown.

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Family, football meant everything to Joe Paterno

GENARO C. ARMAS, The Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Other than family, football was everything to Joe Paterno. It was his lifeblood. It kept him pumped.

Life could not be the same without it.

"Right now, I'm not the coach. And I've got to get used to that," Paterno said after the Penn State Board of Trustees fired him at the height of a child sex abuse scandal.

Before he could, he ran out of time.

Paterno, a sainted figure at Penn State for almost half a century but scarred forever by the scandal involving his one-time heir apparent, died Sunday at age 85.

His death came just 65 days after his son Scott said his father had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Mount Nittany Medical Center said he died at 9:25 a.m. of "metastatic small cell carcinoma of the lung," an aggressive cancer that has spread from one part of the body to an unrelated area.

Friends and former colleagues believe there were other factors — the kind that wouldn't appear on a death certificate.

"You can die of heartbreak. I'm sure Joe had some heartbreak, too," said 82-year-old Bobby Bowden, the former Florida State coach who retired two years ago after 34 seasons in Tallahassee.

Longtime Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said he suspected "the emotional turmoil of the last few weeks might have played into it."

And Mickey Shuler, who played tight end for Paterno from 1975 to 1977, held his alma mater accountable.

"I don't think that the Penn State that he helped us to become and all the principles and values and things that he taught were carried out in the handling of his situation," he said.

Paterno's death just under three months following his last victory called to mind another coaching great, Alabama's Paul "Bear" Bryant, who died less than a month after retiring.

"Quit coaching?" Bryant said late in his career. "I'd croak in a week."

Paterno alluded to the remark made by his friend and rival, saying in 2003: "There isn't anything in my life anymore except my family and my football. I think about it all the time."

The winningest coach in major college football, Paterno roamed the Penn State sidelines for 46 seasons, his thick-rimmed glasses, windbreaker and jet-black sneakers as familiar as the Nittany Lions' blue and white uniforms.

His devotion to what he called "Success with Honor" made Paterno's fall all the more startling.

Happy Valley seemed perfect for him, a place where "JoePa" knew best, where he not only won more football games than any other major college coach, but won them the right way. With Paterno, character came first, championships second, academics before athletics. He insisted that on-field success not come at the expense of graduation rates.

But in the middle of his final season, the legend was shattered. Paterno was engulfed in a child sex abuse scandal when a former trusted assistant, Jerry Sandusky, was accused of molesting 10 boys over a 15-year span, sometimes in the football building.

Outrage built quickly after the state's top law enforcement official said the coach hadn't fulfilled a moral obligation to go to authorities when a graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, reported seeing Sandusky with a young boy in the showers of the football complex in 2002.

McQueary said that he had seen Sandusky attacking the child with his hands around the boy's waist but said he wasn't 100 percent sure it was intercourse. McQueary described Paterno as shocked and saddened and said the coach told him he had "done the right thing" by reporting the encounter.

Paterno waited a day before alerting school officials and never went to the police.

"I didn't know which way to go ... and rather than get in there and make a mistake," Paterno told The Washington Post in an interview nine days before his death.

"You know, (McQueary) didn't want to get specific," Paterno said. "And to be frank with you I don't know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it."

When the scandal broke in November, Paterno said he would retire following the 2011 season. He also said he was "absolutely devastated" by the abuse case.

"This is a tragedy," he said. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

But the university trustees fired Paterno, effective immediately. Graham Spanier, one of the longest-serving university presidents in the nation, also was fired.

Paterno was notified by phone, not in person, a decision that board vice chairman John Surma regretted, trustees said. Lanny Davis, the attorney retained by trustees as an adviser, said Surma intended to extend his regrets over the phone before Paterno hung up him.

After weeks of escalating criticism by some former players and alumni about a lack of transparency, trustees last week said they fired Paterno in part because he failed a moral obligation to do more in reporting the 2002 allegation.

An attorney for Paterno on Thursday called the board's comments self-serving and unsupported by the facts. Paterno fully reported what he knew to the people responsible for campus investigations, lawyer Wick Sollers said.

"He did what he thought was right with the information he had at the time," Sollers said.

The lung cancer was found during a follow-up visit for a bronchial illness. A few weeks later, Paterno broke his pelvis after a fall but did not need surgery.

The hospital said Paterno was surrounded by family members, who have requested privacy.

Paterno had been in the hospital since Jan. 13 for observation after what his family called minor complications from his cancer treatments. Washington Post writer Sally Jenkins, who conducted the final interview, described Paterno then as frail, speaking mostly in a whisper and wearing a wig. The second half of the two-day interview was done at his bedside.

On Sunday, two police officers were stationed to block traffic on the street where Paterno's modest ranch home stands next to a local park. The officers said the family had asked there be no public gathering outside the house, still decorated with a Christmas wreath, so Paterno's relatives could grieve privately. And, indeed, the street was quiet on a cold winter day.

Paterno's sons, Scott and Jay, arrived separately at the house late Sunday morning. Jay Paterno, who was his father's quarterbacks coach, was crying.

"His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled," the family said in a statement. "He died as he lived. He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been. His ambitions were far reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them. He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community."

Paterno built a program based on the credo of "Success with Honor," and he found both. He won 409 games and took the Nittany Lions to 37 bowl games and two national championships. More than 250 of the players he coached went on to the NFL.

"He will go down as the greatest football coach in the history of the game," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said after his former team, the Florida Gators, beat Penn State 37-24 in the 2011 Outback Bowl.

The university handed the football team to one of Paterno's assistants, Tom Bradley, who said Paterno "will go down in history as one of the greatest men, who maybe most of you know as a great football coach."

"As the last 61 years have shown, Joe made an incredible impact," said the statement from the family. "That impact has been felt and appreciated by our family in the form of thousands of letters and well wishes along with countless acts of kindness from people whose lives he touched. It is evident also in the thousands of successful student athletes who have gone on to multiply that impact as they spread out across the country."

New Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien, hired earlier this month, offered his condolences.

"There are no words to express my respect for him as a man and as a coach," O'Brien said in a statement. "To be following in his footsteps at Penn State is an honor."

Paterno believed success was not measured entirely on the field. From his idealistic early days, he had implemented what he called a "grand experiment" — to graduate more players while maintaining success on the field.

The team consistently ranked among the best in the Big Ten for graduating players. As of 2011, it had 49 academic All-Americans, the third-highest among schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision. All but two played under Paterno.

"He teaches us about really just growing up and being a man," former linebacker Paul Posluszny, now with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, once said. "Besides the football, he's preparing us to be good men in life."

Sandusky, who has maintained his innocence, lauded his former boss in a statement that said: "He maintained a high standard in a very difficult profession. Joe preached toughness, hard work and clean competition. Most importantly, he had the courage to practice what he preached."

Paterno certainly had detractors. One former Penn State professor called his high-minded words on academics a farce, and a former administrator said players often got special treatment. His coaching style often was considered too conservative. Some thought he held on to his job too long, and a move to push him out in 2004 failed.

But the critics were in the minority, and his program was never cited for major NCAA violations. The child sex abuse scandal, however, did prompt separate inquiries by the U.S. Department of Education and the NCAA into the school's handling.

Paterno didn't intend to become a coach. He played quarterback and defensive back for Brown University and set a school record with 14 career interceptions, but when he graduated in 1950 he planned to go to law school. He said his father hoped he would someday be president.

But when Paterno was 23, a former coach at Brown was moving to Penn State to become the head coach and persuaded Paterno to come with him as an assistant.

"I had no intention to coach when I got out of Brown," Paterno said in 2007 in an interview at Penn State's Beaver Stadium before being inducted into college football's Hall of Fame. "Come to this hick town? From Brooklyn?"

In 1963, he was offered a job by the late Al Davis — $18,000, triple his salary at Penn State, plus a car to become general manager and coach of the AFL's Oakland Raiders. He said no. Rip Engle retired as Penn State head coach three years later, and Paterno took over.

At the time, Penn State was considered "Eastern football" — inferior — and Paterno courted newspaper coverage to raise the team's profile. In 1967, PSU began a 30-0-1 streak.

But Penn State couldn't get to the top of the polls. The Nittany Lions finished second in 1968 and 1969 despite perfect seasons. They were undefeated and untied again in 1973 at 12-0 again but finished fifth. Texas edged them in 1969 after President Richard Nixon, impressed with the Longhorns' bowl performance, declared them No. 1.

"I'd like to know," Paterno said later, "how could the president know so little about Watergate in 1973, and so much about college football in 1969?"

A national title finally came in 1982, after a 27-23 win over Georgia at the Sugar Bowl. Another followed in 1986 after the Lions intercepted Vinny Testaverde five times and beat Miami 14-10 in the Fiesta Bowl.

They made several title runs after that, including a 2005 run to the Orange Bowl and an 11-1 season in 2008 that ended in a 37-23 loss to Southern California in the Rose Bowl.

In his later years, physical ailments wore the old coach down.

Paterno was run over on the sideline during a game at Wisconsin in November 2006 and underwent knee surgery. He hurt his hip in 2008 demonstrating an onside kick. An intestinal illness and a bad reaction to antibiotics prescribed for dental work slowed him for most of the 2010 season. He began scaling back his speaking engagements that year, ending his summer caravan of speeches to alumni across the state.

Then a receiver bowled over Paterno at practice in August, sending him to the hospital with shoulder and pelvis injuries and consigning him to coach much of what would be his last season from the press box.

"The fact that we've won a lot of games is that the good Lord kept me healthy, not because I'm better than anybody else," Paterno said two days before he won his 409th game and passed Eddie Robinson of Grambling State for the most in Division I. "It's because I've been around a lot longer than anybody else."

Paterno could be conservative on the field, especially in big games, relying on the tried-and-true formula of defense, the running game and field position.

He and his wife, Sue, raised five children in State College. Anybody could telephone him at his home — the same one he appeared in front of on the night he was fired — by looking up "Paterno, Joseph V." in the phone book.

He walked to home games and was greeted and wished good luck by fans on the street. Former players paraded through his living room for the chance to say hello. But for the most part, he stayed out of the spotlight.

Paterno did have a knack for jokes. He referred to Twitter, the social media site, as "Twittle-do, Twittle-dee."

He also could be abrasive and stubborn, and he had his share of run-ins with his bosses or administrators. And as his legend grew, so did the attention to his on-field decisions, and the questions about when he would hang it up.

Calls for his retirement reached a crescendo in 2004. The next year, Penn State went 11-1 and won the Big Ten. In the Orange Bowl, PSU beat Florida State, coached by Bowden, who was eased out after the 2009 season after 34 years and 389 wins.

Like many others, he was outlasted by "JoePa."
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Penn St. president: University will honor Paterno

The Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State President Rodney Erickson says the university is grieving the death of legendary former football coach Joe Paterno and plans to honor him for his contributions to the school.

In a statement released Sunday, Erickson called Paterno "a great man who made us a greater university." Paterno died early Sunday at age 85.

Erickson says Paterno's "dedication to ensuring his players were successful both on the field and in life is legendary." He says PSU will remember his "remarkable life and legacy" and plans to honor him.

The winningest coach in major college football was fired from Penn State on Nov. 9 amid a child sex abuse scandal involving a former assistant. Critics say Paterno should have done more to stop it.

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Penn St coach O'Brien: Following Paterno an honor

JIMMY GOLEN, The Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — One of Bill O'Brien's first acts as the new Penn State football coach was to mourn the loss of the old one.

O'Brien said former Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno, who died Sunday, was "an icon in the coaching profession." But he was also more than just a coach, O'Brien said in offering condolences to the Paterno family, current and former Penn State players and the rest of the university community.

"Today they lost a great man, coach, mentor and, in many cases, a father figure, and we extend our deepest sympathies," O'Brien, the New England Patriots offensive coordinator, said in a statement before the AFC championship game against the Baltimore Ravens.

"The Penn State football program is one of college football's iconic programs because it was led by an icon in the coaching profession in Joe Paterno. There are no words to express my respect for him as a man and as a coach."

Paterno died at the age of 85 from complications of lung cancer, two months after he was fired in the wake of sexual abuse allegations against one of his assistant coaches. O'Brien was hired to replace him, but he is finishing out the year with the Patriots as they reached the AFC title game for the second time in his five years with the team.

In his 46 years at Penn State, Paterno won two national championships and 409 games in all — the most in the history of major college football.

"To be following in his footsteps at Penn State is an honor," O'Brien said "Our families, our football program, our university and all of college football have suffered a great loss, and we will be eternally grateful for coach Paterno's immeasurable contributions."

The Patriots said O'Brien did not address Paterno's death with the team on Sunday, when New England won 23-20 to advance to the Super Bowl. That means Penn State will have to wait another two weeks before O'Brien takes over the job full-time.

"I think Penn State has hired a great young man to be their head coach, someone I'm very fond of," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in the locker room after the game. "Hopefully if we collect enough draft picks we'll be able to pick his best players."

Receiver Matthew Slater was among the players in Sunday's game offering their condolences to Paterno's family. Several of them did not know Paterno had died.

"The man was a legend and always will be," Slater said. "It's tough to fill the shoes of a legend, but I think that they picked a great coach who's a leader, who's (going to) try to build men with those kids there at Penn State. He's going to do everything he can to help that program on and off the football field, and I think he was a great hire."

But, for now, O'Brien is focused on winning the Super Bowl.

"Billy, right now, the job he's doing under the pressure that he has on his own has been phenomenal," offensive lineman Brian Waters said. "He definitely hasn't slipped one bit; it's been no distraction. You wouldn't even know that he was going to be going to a big-time job somewhere else. He's done a great job, and I expect he's going to be at an even higher level in the next two weeks."
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