Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno dies at 85

The scoreboard inside Beaver Stadium on the Penn State University campus is lit up with a tribue to Joe Paterno Sunday, January 21, 2012.  Centre Daily Times/Nabil K. Mark
The scoreboard inside Beaver Stadium on the Penn State University campus is lit up with a tribue to Joe Paterno Sunday, January 21, 2012. Centre Daily Times/Nabil K. Mark

STATE COLLEGE -- Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has died at age 85.

The man who coached for more than 60 years at one institution and won more games as a head coach than anyone in Division I history died from complications related to lung cancer Sunday at Mount Nittany Medical Center. 

The Paterno family released a statement Sunday morning to announce his death.

“It is with great sadness we announce that Joe Paterno passed away earlier today,” the statement read. “His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled.”

Paterno had been diagnosed with lung cancer on Nov. 12 and had been hospitalized on several occasions, including last Friday. Mount Nittany Medical Center issued a news release, saying he died at 9:25 a.m. Sunday, surrounded by his family.

“He died as he lived,” the family’s statement reads. “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 was the head coach at Penn State for 46 seasons, winning 409 games and earning a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame. He was fired this past November, however, in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. Longtime assistant coach Tom Bradley guided the team through its final four games, including the TicketCity Bowl, and Penn State hired New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien on Jan. 6.

Paterno is survived by his wife, Sue, five children -- including Jay, who was an assistant coach for his father for nearly two decades -- and 17 grandchildren.

O’Brien issued a statement of condolence to Paterno’s family and the Penn State community.

 “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,” a portion of the statement read. “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. “

University President Rodney Erickson and the board of trustees who decided Nov. 9 to remove his from his coaching position issued this statement Sunday morning:

“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 in college football. His life, work and generosity will be remembered always.

“The university plans to honor him for his many contributions and to remember his remarkable life and legacy. We are all deeply saddened.”

Paterno built a program based on the credo of “Success with Honor,” and he found both. In addition to 409 wins, he 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.

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

“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.

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.

Trustees removed Paterno and university President Graham Spanier from their positions amid outrage over a grand jury report saying that a graduate student told Paterno in 2002 that he’d witnessed Sandusky assaulting a young boy in a university shower. 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 an interview earlier this month with The Washington Post.

No one else notified law enforcement either, and two university administrators are facing charges of failure to report abuse and perjury in connection with their grand jury testimony about the incident. Paterno faced no charges. The state Attorney General’s office said he fulfilled his legal obligation by reporting what he knew to university officials.

Before he was removed as head coach on Nov. 9, Paterno announced plans to retire and called the abuse case a “tragedy.”

 “It is one of the great sorrows of my life,” he said at the time. “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

Many alumni, upset at trustees’ handling of the situation, have called for ousting trustees, or changes in the board’s structure.

In recent days, rumors that Paterno’s health had deteriorated circulated, and the family Saturday issued a statement that he had developed complications from his cancer treatments, and doctors had characterized his condition as “serious.”

Upon hearing that news, hundreds of people gathered around the statue of Paterno at Beaver Stadium Saturday night, lighting candles in gestures of respect to the well-loved coach.

“It’s a lot like losing a parent, a family member,”  said Peggy Nevel, of State College, who took part in the vigil. “You grew up with him. You had such pride in him.”

On Sunday, after news of his death, a sign that usually advertises specials at Hoss's Steak and Seafood restaurant on North Atherton Street offered a different message:

"Joe, we will miss you."

About 10 students and alumni were in the HUB-Robeson Center late Sunday morning to watch the news coverage of his death on the big-screen TV there.

They expressed sorrow, and said Paterno and his coaching legacy deserve respect.

Jim Waters of Portland, Ore. was in town for this afternoon's wrestling tournament against Iowa. His son, Michael, is a freshman on the team.

 “I'm oddly glad to be here in Happy Valley at this time, just to pay some respects,” Jim Waters said.

Michael Waters said Paterno symbolizes what Penn State is, including “success with honor.”

Bill Shope, a 1962 civil engineering alum, said Paterno had the right priorities in coaching, making sure his players did well academically, too.

“I don't think he let anybody down,” Shope said. “They were his boys. He took care of them.”

Dave Gingher, a Penn State employee who attended the vigil at the statue Saturday, recalled going to football games with his grandparents when Paterno was still relatively new to the head coaching job. 

“I grew up here,” he said. “Joe’s been a part of my life since I was a kid. He was such a man of integrity. He did so much more than win football games. He was the brand. He was Penn State.”

Centre Daily Times staff writers Jessica VanderKolk and Chris Rosenblum and Genaro Armas of The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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