Joe Paterno, who built a legendary career over 46 seasons as Penn State football coach only to see it end in scandal, has died from complications related to lung cancer, the family announced today (Jan. 22). He was 85.
“It is with great sadness that we announce that Joe Paterno passed away earlier today. His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled,” his 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,” it continued.
“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.”
The 85-year-old coaching legend’s death marks a sudden turn in the continuing child sex scandal involving one of his assistant coaches Jerry Sandusky, who left the program in 1999. Paterno’s failure to call police after he was informed of an alleged sexual assault in 2002, prompted the university to fire him last November.
Then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary told Paterno he had witnessed Sandusky allegedly sexually abusing a young boy in a campus shower. Paterno informed campus authorities, but took no further action.
Shortly after Paterno left the university it was revealed that he was suffering form lung cancer. The extent of the illness was not described, but on Saturday (Jan. 21) his family released a statement saying he was in serious condition. He died early Sunday morning (Jan. 22).
He was hospitalized Jan. 13, after meeting with a Washington Post reporter in his first and only interview since the Sandusky scandal broke, the newspaper reported.
Paterno said he was unsure about what to do when the alleged sex assault was brought to his attention. “I didn’t know exactly how to handle it,” Paterno said. “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,” he told the Post.
Joe Paterno’s Stellar College Record
The scandal was a serious blot in a career that exemplified the best of college football. He won two national championships, posted five unbeaten seasons, won every major bowl game and with 409 victories, is college football’s winningest Division I coach.
Paterno, known affectionately as Joe Pa, was revered at the school and throughout the state. The campus Beaver Stadium regularly drew 100,000 fans for home games. Even while alive and still active as a coach, the university erected a statue of him outside the stadium.
“He has been many things in his life — a soldier, scholar, mentor, coach, friend and father,” the family statement said. “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.
When he decided to forego a career in law and make coaching his vocation, his father Angelo had but one command: Make an impact. As the last 61 years have shown, Joe made an incredible impact.
He is survived by his wife, five children, 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.