Obit: Paterno saw football Camelot tarnished by sex abuse scandal

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Jan. 22, 2012, 7:31 p.m. | World — by Reuters

In this Oct. 5, 2010 file photo, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno leaves Beaver Stadium after his weekly NCAA college football news conference on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010 in State College, Pa. Paterno, the longtime Penn State coach who won more games than anyone else in major college football but was fired amid a child sex abuse scandal that scarred his reputation for winning with integrity, died Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012. He was 85.
© (AP Photo/Pat Little, file)


He expected athletes to excel in class too. NEW YORK - Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who died on Sunday at 85, was revered as one of the greatest coaches of the high-profile sport but saw his legacy tarnished by a child sexual abuse scandal.

The sterling reputation he built during nearly five decades as head coach at Pennsylvania State University was wounded by allegations that Jerry Sandusky, a long-time assistant coach, sexually abused boys, and that school officials tried to cover it up.

The scandal involving a highly respected football program brought national attention to the issue of child sexual abuse in the same way that pedophilia charges involving Roman Catholic priests did years earlier.

Paterno, who had more wins than any other coach in Division I college football history, died of lung cancer at Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, Penn State's home, the hospital said.

Paterno had disclosed he had treatable lung cancer shortly after he and university President Graham Spanier were fired by trustees on Nov. 9 for their roles in the sex abuse scandal.

A member of the College Football Hall of Fame, Paterno was unrivaled by his peers for the longevity of his success. Known for his thick glasses and navy blue windbreaker, he promoted the notion that football players could excel on the field and in the classroom.

Penn State long used Paterno's image to help attract the best students and persuade alumni and donors to support their programs. His firing caused thousands of students to swarm downtown State College, the home town of Penn State, in protest.

With 409 victories over 46 seasons as head coach, Paterno won more games in big-time college football than any other coach. Only a handful of other football coaches, such as the late Paul "Bear" Bryant of the University of Alabama, were held in such reverence.

Looked upon as a beloved institution in Pennsylvania, Paterno won national championships in 1982 and 1986 and survived calls to leave the job because of his advanced age. During his last few years, he tended to coach games from the press box rather than the sidelines because of his age.

"Success with Honor" was the motto of Paterno's football program, which boasts high graduation rates among players.


Sandusky, Paterno's former defensive coordinator, faces 52 counts of sexually abusing boys for more than a decade. Two other university officials were charged with not reporting an incident in 2002 when Sandusky allegedly was seen sexually assaulting a child in a Penn State football locker room.

Paterno did not face any charges and was not a target of the criminal investigation. He said he was informed of the 2002 incident and passed the information up the chain of command to the university's athletic director.

Paterno has been criticized for not following up or doing more to address the allegations, such as calling the police.

"I didn't know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was," a frail Paterno told the Washington Post in an interview this month.

"So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn't work out that way."

The Brooklyn-born Paterno played football at Brown University from 1946 to 1949 and graduated with a degree in English literature. He joined Penn State as an assistant coach in 1950 and began building his resume as head coach 16 years later.


Paterno steered the Nittany Lions to seven undefeated regular seasons. Penn State claimed three Big Ten Conference titles -- one solo in 1994 and as co-winners in 2005 and 2008.

He is also the all-time leader among college coaches with 24 post-season wins in 37 bowl game appearances. He is the only coach to win the Rose, Sugar, Cotton and Orange bowls.

His team struggled in 2003. When he said he would consider retirement if his 2005 team did not improve, the Nittany Lions responded with an 11-1 record.

Paterno's program was known for churning out stars who went on to play professionally in the National Football League. On his watch, Penn State produced 78 first-team All-Americans.

They included 10 linebackers coached by Sandusky at the school that became known as "Linebacker U."

More than 350 of Paterno's players have signed NFL contracts, with 32 of them drafted in the first round.

Paterno was also known for his philanthropy, giving more than $4 million to Penn State for scholarships, faculty endowments and construction.

He was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006 but his induction ceremony was delayed a year so he could recover from injuries suffered in a sideline collision.

Paterno is survived by his wife, Sue, and five children and 17 grandchildren.
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