Penn St. legend Joe Paterno dies at 85
STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP)
Joe Paterno, the iconic former Penn State football coach whose legend was tarnished when he was fired in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, has died, his family confirmed Sunday. He was 85.
Doctors had said Saturday that Paterno's condition had become ''serious'' in recent days after he experienced complications from lung cancer.
"His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled," the Paterno family said in a statement Sunday. "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.
"He has been many things in his life — a soldier, scholar, mentor, coach, friend and father. To my mother, he was and is her soul mate, and the last several weeks have shown the strength of their love. To his children and grandchildren he is a shining example of how to live a good, decent and honest life, a standard to which we aspire."
The winningest major-college football coach of all time with 409 victories and two national titles, Paterno was diagnosed shortly after Penn State's Board of Trustees ousted him Nov. 9 following the child sex-abuse charges against Sandusky, his former assistant.
The firing marked the stunning end of Paterno's 61-year career at Penn State — 46 of them as head coach.
Critics charged that Paterno, when told years ago of the Sandusky allegations, did not take appropriate action.
Paterno had been getting treatment since his cancer diagnosis. His health problems were worsened when he broke his pelvis.
On Saturday, the Washington Post, quoting individuals close to the family, reported on its website that the family had been weighing whether to take Paterno off a ventilator on Sunday.
As word spread Saturday of Paterno's condition, some 200 Penn State students and townspeople gathered at a statue of Paterno just outside a gate at Beaver Stadium. Some brought candles, while others held up their smart phones to take photos of the scene. The mood was somber, with no chanting or shouting.
''Drove by students at the Joe statue,'' Jay Paterno tweeted. ''Just told my Dad about all the love & support — inspiring him.''
Penn State student David Marselles held a candle in his right hand and posed next to a life-sized cardboard cutout of Paterno that he keeps at his apartment. A friend took a photo on the frigid night.
"I came to Penn State because of Joe Paterno. Since I was a little kid, I've been watching the games . . . screaming 'We Are ... Penn State' because of him. . . . He inspired me to go to college," Marselles said. "With such a tragic event like this, I just thought it was necessary to show my support."
The pelvis injury forced the Hall of Famer to spend most of his last season coaching from the press box — until trustees dismissed him.
The final days of Paterno's Penn State career were easily his toughest.
Sandusky, a longtime defensive coordinator who was on Paterno's staff during two national title seasons, was arrested Nov. 5 and ultimately charged with sexually abusing a total of 10 boys over 15 years. His arrest sparked outrage not just locally but across the nation, and there were widespread calls for Paterno to quit.
Paterno announced late on Nov. 9 that he would retire at the end of the season, but hours later he received a call from board vice chairman John Surma, telling him he had been terminated.
By that point, a crowd of students and media were outside the Paterno home. When news spread that Paterno had been dumped, there was rioting in State College.
Police on Saturday evening barricaded the block where Paterno lives, and a police car was stationed about 50 yards from his home. Several people had gathered in the living room of the house. No one was outside, other than reporters and photographers.
Trustees said this week they pushed Paterno out in part because he failed a moral responsibility to report an allegation made in 2002 against Sandusky to authorities outside the university. They also felt he had challenged their authority and that, as a practical matter, with all the media in town and attention to the Sandusky case, he could no longer run the team.
Paterno testified before the grand jury investigating Sandusky that he had relayed to his bosses an accusation that came from graduate assistant Mike McQueary, who said he saw Sandusky abusing a boy in the showers of the Penn State football building.
Paterno told the Post that he didn't know how to handle the charge, but a day after McQueary visited him, he spoke to the athletic director and the administrator with oversight over the campus police.
Wick Sollers, Paterno's lawyer, called the board's comments this week self-serving and unsupported by the facts. Paterno fully reported what he knew to the people responsible for campus investigations, Sollers said.
"He did what he thought was right with the information he had at the time," Sollers said.
Sandusky says he is innocent and is out on bail, awaiting trial.
The back and forth between Paterno's representative and the board reflects a trend in recent weeks, during which Penn State alumni — and especially former players, including Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris — have questioned the trustees' actions and accused them of failing to give Paterno a chance to defend himself.
Three town halls, in Pittsburgh, suburban Philadelphia and New York City, seemed to do little to calm the situation and dozens of candidates have now expressed interest in running for the board, a volunteer position that typically attracts much less interest.
While everyone involved has said the focus should be on Sandusky's accusers and their ordeals, the abuse scandal brought a tarnished ending to Paterno's sterling career.
Paterno won 409 games and took the Nittany Lions to 37 bowl games and two national championships, the last in the 1986 season. More than 250 of the players he coached went on to the NFL.
Throughout his coaching years, Paterno maintained that, yes, winning was important, but even more important was winning with honor.
"When he decided to forego a career in law and make coaching his vocation," the family statement said, "his father Angelo had but one command: Make an impact.
"As the last 61 years have shown, Joe made an incredible impact. 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.
"And so he leaves us with a peaceful mind, comforted by his "living legacy" of five kids, 17 grandchildren, and hundreds of young men whose lives he changed in more ways than can begin to be counted."
In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family requests that donations be made to the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania or the Penn State-THON, The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon.
Newscore contributed to this report