Joe Paterno, 85, dies

Legendary Penn State coach battled lung cancer

Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012 10:51 AM
Last updated Monday, Jan. 23, 2012 1:32 AM
  • Follow College

STATE COLLEGE, Pa.  — Joe Paterno, the longtime Penn State coach who won more games than anyone in major college football but was fired amid a child sex abuse scandal that scarred his reputation for winning with integrity, died Sunday. He was 85.

Back | Next
Longtime Penn State coach Joe Paterno was carried off the field by his players after getting his 400th collegiate win on Nov. 6, 2010. Paterno, who won more games than anyone in major college football, died Sunday. He was 85.  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Longtime Penn State coach Joe Paterno was carried off the field by his players after getting his 400th collegiate win on Nov. 6, 2010. Paterno, who won more games than anyone in major college football, died Sunday. He was 85.

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."

Paterno built his program on the credo "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's son Scott said on Nov. 18 that his father was being treated for lung cancer. The cancer was diagnosed during a follow-up visit for a bronchial illness. A few weeks after that revelation, Paterno also broke his pelvis after a fall but did not need surgery.

Paterno had been in the hospital since Jan. 13 for observation for what his family had 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.

"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."

The final days of Paterno's Penn State career were easily the toughest in his 61 years with the university and 46 seasons as head football coach.

It was because Paterno was a such a sainted figure — more memorable than any of his players and one of the best-known coaches in all of sports — that his downfall was so startling. During one breathtaking week in early November, Paterno was engulfed by a scandal and forced from his job, because he failed to go to the police in 2002 when told a young boy was molested inside the football complex.

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

Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator expected to succeed Paterno before retiring in 1999, was charged with sexually assaulting 10 boys over 15 years. Two university officials stepped down after they were charged with perjury following a grand jury investigation of Sandusky. But attention quickly focused on an alleged rape that took place in a shower in the football building, witnessed by Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant at the time.

McQueary testified that he had seen Sandusky attacking the child and that he had told Paterno, who waited a day before alerting school authorities. Police were never called and the state's top cop later said Paterno failed to execute his moral responsibility by not contacting police.

"You know, (McQueary) didn't want to get specific," Paterno said in the Post interview. "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."

On the morning of Nov. 9, Paterno said he would retire following the 2011 season. He also said he was "absolutely devastated" by the abuse case.

"This is a tragedy," the coach 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 dismissed.

According to Lanny Davis, an attorney retained by the trustees as an adviser, board vice chairman John Surma regretted having to tell Paterno the decision over the phone.

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."

Thick, smoky-lens glasses, rolled up khakis, jet-black sneakers, blue windbreaker — Paterno was easy to spot on the sidelines. His teams were just as easy to spot on the field; their white helmets and classic blue and white uniforms had the same old-school look as the coach.

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.

His teams 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, as well. One former Penn State professor called his high-minded words on academics a farce. He was criticized for making broad critiques about the wrongs in college football without providing specifics. A former administrator said his players often got special treatment compared to non-athletes. His coaching style often was considered too conservative. Some thought he held on to his job too long. There was a push to move him out in 2004 but it failed.

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

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

When he 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 at Beaver Stadium in an interview before being inducted into the 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 records. They went 12-0 in 1973 and 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, in a 27-23 win over Georgia at the Sugar Bowl. Penn State won another in 1986 after the Lions picked off Vinny Testaverde five times and beat Miami 14-10 in the Fiesta Bowl.

They have made several title runs since then, including a 2005 run to the Orange Bowl and an 11-1 campaign in 2008 that earned them a berth in the Rose Bowl, where they lost 37-23 to Southern California.

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. Paterno 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 the 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 joke. He referred to Twitter, the social media, as "Twittle-do, Twittle-dee."

He also could be abrasive and stubborn, and 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 retire.

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, left the Seminoles after the 2009 season after 34 years and 389 wins.

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

Comments (16) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Jake
32513
Points
Jake 01/22/12 - 12:23 pm
0
0
Great man. Great coach. I met

Great man. Great coach.
I met him once out here near Fisherman's Wharf when he was walking around with his wife. We chatted a little about Penn State because my wife went there in the early 80's. Being a Dawg fan, I told him I was still a little upset about the 1982 National Championship game that Penn State had won. He said, "I'm sorry......well, not really."
Rest in Peace, JoePa.

dawggrad
6
Points
dawggrad 01/22/12 - 01:43 pm
0
0
Disappointed with the run-on

Disappointed with the run-on sentence leading the story in the first paragraph. Would appreciate more editing from this paper. I'm also not sure that information about a person being fired belongs in the first paragraph of an article about his or her death. You could have easily made the decision to move the firing to a second paragraph, and it would have made more sense. Actually, I'm not sure a staffer from the Augusta Chronicle wrote this article. Seems like it originated from the AP or a wire service, although I can't see that information online right now.

tgentry
231
Points
tgentry 01/22/12 - 02:28 pm
0
0
@dawggrad I see a lot of

@dawggrad I see a lot of stories on AC that is from other agencies. They just copy and paste and may sometimes change a word or two. It is funny they sent me a letter from their lawyers when I used to copy their content on my site. But I guess the AC doesnt have to abide by the same rules. If it is from another news source they should only be able to put the first paragraph in then link to the original source. In fact this looks a lot like this article

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/football/ncaa/wires/01/22/2060.ap....

curly123053
4638
Points
curly123053 01/22/12 - 02:58 pm
0
0
I would hope that the media

I would hope that the media would STOP bringing up the sex scandal that hit PSU at the end of his career. It's time to honor his accomplishments as a coach, teacher, and all the good he has done prior to. Thank you Joe Pa for the memories and I pray for his family, friends, and players who are hurting today.

tckr1983
360
Points
tckr1983 01/22/12 - 04:25 pm
0
0
I lost my dad this week...

I lost my dad this week...

Can't really speak for what Joe Pa did or didn't do, should or shouldn't have done... but I know what their family is going through, my thoughts and prayers are with them right now.

My fathers obituary is in the Chronicle today, any comments or thoughts would be appreciated if you feel the urge to. Anyone who has been through this before knows what I'm talking about...

Make sure that the ones you love the most, know just that... you never know.

RIP Tommy Tucker 11/03/1948 - 01/19/2012

RIP Joe Pa

etlinks
20723
Points
etlinks 01/22/12 - 04:52 pm
0
0
Sorry for your loss 1983.Good

Sorry for your loss 1983.Good post curly. RIP Joe Pa.

augusta citizen
9305
Points
augusta citizen 01/22/12 - 05:33 pm
0
0
Very sorry for your loss,

Very sorry for your loss, tckr1983. I lost my father years ago and it is very hard to go through.

tanbaby
1293
Points
tanbaby 01/22/12 - 05:55 pm
0
0
tckr1983, i knew your dad
Unpublished

tckr1983, i knew your dad from pump n shop and circle k.....great man, good friend...signed both obituaries, will prob be at the memorial service. he will be missed....

Willow Bailey
20580
Points
Willow Bailey 01/22/12 - 06:04 pm
0
0
tckr1983, I believe there

tckr1983, I believe there are two days in our lives when we really make serious headway in growing up. The day our first child is born and the day we bury our first parent. It does get easier; but it takes a lot of time and healing. Not a day goes by that I don't think of my Dad. He is always with me.

May the Lord comfort you and use this time to bring you closer to Him. I am very sorry for your pain. Don't hesitate to reach out to others.

tckr1983
360
Points
tckr1983 01/22/12 - 06:55 pm
0
0
Willow, I mean this in all

Willow,

I mean this in all seriousness. As I sat down on the couch just now and turned on my lap top, I was thinking about what I was going to say at his service if I felt like I could do it next Saturday. My thought was that I had finished growing up, I understand so much more about life now and things that dad told me that at the time I didn't quite fully grasp. Your name when you pass is all you have, not money, not fame, not what car you drive... it's what people thought about you and the happiness you brought others. My dad was the best there was, and I'm not just saying that.

There's a whole bunch of little things like that over that last month of so that are either extremely unlikely chance or God and dad telling me it was his time. Today is a lot better than the last few. Thank you.

tanbaby,

He cared genuinely about everyone he ever met, even if it was only once. I'm sure thats something that you picked up on. He will be missed because he was such a good and likable guy. He was my hero. There is a lot of him in me and I can draw strength in him. He wouldn't want us to worry about him and I don't want others to worry about me. I only think of my younger brother, my dad's girlfriend and my mother who was still his friend even after they divorced.

We'd love to see you at the service if you could make it. I'm Morgan, his oldest son. Thank you, your comment is very much appreciated.

Willow Bailey
20580
Points
Willow Bailey 01/22/12 - 07:50 pm
0
0
tcrk1983, I am so glad to

tcrk1983, I am so glad to know, that you know, without a doubt that your beloved father has passed into eternal life with Christ Jesus. Wow, what peace and joy that leaves us, even in the midst of our deepest grief, to know without a doubt our parent has Finished Well.

I am so happy for you, your family, and all of heaven. Though we are strangers, I will be praying for you this week that the Lord is going to use you in a mighty way to eulogize your father, help your family grow (not just go) through this difficult time and to bring honor and glory to God on Saturday.

My father encouraged me so much in my life and he continues to do so in my heart and mind. I know yours will do the same for you. Be sure to check in with us and let us encourage you in the following days. wb

Jake
32513
Points
Jake 01/22/12 - 07:57 pm
0
0
Howdy Morgan, I did not know

Howdy Morgan, I did not know your father nor do I know you. However, having lost a father about 7 years ago, I can feel your sorrow. One thing that you will feel or realize now and in the next few years, and probably for the rest of your life, is the presence of your father. When you least expect or realize it, his presence will be there. You are what you were raised to be and having a strong father will stay with you forever. Your job is to pass it on.

tckr1983
360
Points
tckr1983 01/22/12 - 10:44 pm
0
0
Thanks. Just a weird, empty

Thanks. Just a weird, empty feeling that comes and goes... caught myself a couple of times picking up the phone to call him.

If you'd like, my email is tckr83@yahoo.com and I'll let you know how everything went. Your posts have helped a lot even though I've never met any of you. May God bless you and your families.

dawggrad
6
Points
dawggrad 01/22/12 - 11:38 pm
0
0
Morgan -- I do not know you,

Morgan -- I do not know you, either, but I am sorry for your loss. I will keep you in my prayers this week as you approach the memorial service. Hopefully, the event on Saturday will bring you even more closure. I also hope you find the words you're seeking to honor your father. Take care.

Iwannakno
1533
Points
Iwannakno 01/23/12 - 01:45 am
0
0
it never gets easier...you
Unpublished

it never gets easier...you learn to live with it.

eagle
94
Points
eagle 01/23/12 - 02:21 am
0
0
1983...sorry for your loss.
Unpublished

1983...sorry for your loss. There will be many times when you'll pick u the phone to call your Dad. Lost mine in '01 and I still do it. Wish only the best for you and your family. Take care.

As far as Joe Paterno...he was a great coach and individual. RIP.

WAG
287
Points
WAG 01/23/12 - 08:38 am
0
0
"JoPa" may have won games

"JoPa" may have won games with dignity but where was his dignity when it really counted???? His legacy is that he stood idly by and let kids be molested. Those kids will never be the same...He is as bad or worse than the monstor Jerry Sandusky.....He did nothing to save them... Instead of going out in glory he goes out with shame. And I think he died of a broken heart. My prayer is for the kids whose childhood and dignity was taken away all for the game of football!

WAG
287
Points
WAG 01/23/12 - 09:01 am
0
0
Sorry for your loss!

Sorry for your loss!

Sean Moores
338
Points
Sean Moores 01/23/12 - 12:39 pm
0
0
tgentry, no we do not copy

tgentry, no we do not copy and paste other news outlet stories and change a word or two. If we have permission to run a story, we will edit it as we would any story. The Sports Illustrated story you linked to is actually the same AP story that we ran - both have proper citation. We pay AP to use their stories. We do not allow other web sites to post our stories.

Back to Top

Top headlines

Paine president resigns

George C. Bradley resigned as president of the embattled Paine College on Tuesday as the institution continues efforts to maintain its accreditation after several years of financial mismanagement ...
Search Augusta jobs