By Jack Carey, USA Today
Penn State coaching legend Joe Paterno dies at 85
The fallout in 2011 from the child sex-abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, who was an assistant on Paterno's Penn State staff until 1999, prompted the university's Board of Trustees to fire Paterno, then 84, with three games left in the regular season.
Paterno, who died Sunday at 85, was criticized for not going to law enforcement in 2002 once he was told by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary that McQueary had seen Sandusky allegedly sexually abusing a young boy in a shower on campus.
"I didn't know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was," Paterno told The Washington Post in January 2012 in the only interview he gave after the scandal broke. "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."
Days after he was fired in November 2011, it was disclosed that Paterno had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
Steve Shaffer, a 30-year PSU season ticketholder, who saw Paterno's first win as a head coach in 1966, said days after Paterno was let go that "the whole thing is like finding out there's no Santa Claus."
The end to Paterno's tenure came in a way nobody could have predicted.
It was also a football career that almost didn't happen.
In 1950, while a senior at Brown University, where he played football, Paterno was accepted into the Boston University School of Law. While awaiting graduation, he got an offer from Brown's coach, Rip Engle, to be a part-time assistant, working with the team's quarterbacks.
Shortly thereafter, however, Engle accepted the position as head coach at Penn State. His contract allowed him to bring one assistant with him . He chose an "astonished" Paterno, who followed his mentor to the small central Pennsylvania outpost of State College.
Paterno went on to become the national personification of the college football coach and the public face of Penn State, which made his eventual fall all the more compelling.
After succeeding Engle in 1966, what Paterno accomplished in a 46-year head coaching tenure was winning two national championships, having five unbeaten seasons, victories in all five major bowl games — and earning a spot in the Hall of Fame.
He holds records for the most years spent as a head coach at one school and the most victories for a major-college coach, with 409. He was even athletics director at the school from 1980-82.
Building a champion
Paterno became known for his thick glasses, rolled-up pant legs, white socks and football cleats. And as his individual power grew, Penn State's program became a behemoth on the national scene. Beaver Stadium kept expanding to more than 100,000 seats, and fans and alumni flocked to games from all over the northeast.
Penn State's creamery named a popular ice-cream flavor Peachy Paterno, and a statue of the coach was built outside the stadium with plaques mounted nearby listing the year-by-year results of every game he coached.
And few dared tell the man known as Joe Pa what to do.
A 26-33 record compiled between 2000 and 2004 prompted then-PSU president Graham Spanier and athletics director Tim Curley, who later also lost their positions over the Sandusky fallout, to encourage Paterno to retire.
"I still enjoy it. I guess I'm dumb," he told USA TODAY shortly before the start of the 2006 season.
"If I'm going to get out of it, what am I going to do? (Ex-Florida State coach) Bobby Bowden had the best line: 'If I retire, what am I retiring to?' The alternative doesn't light me up."
Road to No. 1
Paterno was born Dec. 21, 1926, in Brooklyn, N.Y., the first son of Angelo and Florence Paterno.
While growing up in the 1930s and early '40s, he spent lots of time playing touch football and stickball. He attended St. Edmond's Grammar School and later went to Brooklyn Prep High School.
In 1944, while a senior at Brooklyn Prep, Paterno played on a football team whose only loss was to St. Cecilia's of Englewood, N.J., which was coached by future Pro Football Hall of Famer Vince Lombardi.
After a stint in the Army, Paterno and his brother George headed for Brown, where Joe starred as a quarterback.
It was there that Engle helped steer Paterno toward his life's course.
While an assistant to Engle, Paterno in 1962 married the former Suzanne Pohland of Latrobe, Pa. She is a Penn State graduate as are all five of their children, including son Jay, who was an assistant on his father's staff.
Penn State was one of the East's best programs during Engle's 16-year coaching stint, but it was nothing like what was to come once Paterno took over.
Things got off to a slow start for the new coach as his first team went 5-5. But the Lions didn't stay mediocre for long.
The next year they had eight wins and tied Florida State in the Gator Bowl, and in 1968, Paterno had his first undefeated team. The 11-0 Nittany Lions edged Kansas 15-14 in the Orange Bowl, but it wasn't enough for the national title, as the Lions finished behind Woody Hayes' Ohio State team in the Associated Press media rankings and behind the Buckeyes and Southern California in the coaches' poll.
Paterno, however, was named coach of the year by the American Football Coaches Association, the first of a record five such awards for him from the AFCA.
That season marked the start of a streak of excellence for Paterno and his team that featured perfection on the field but frustration in the polls. The Lions, an independent in those years, had a hard time convincing poll voters that their schedule, which featured other Eastern independents such as Army, Navy, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Boston College and West Virginia, made them worthy of the top spot in the rankings.
They also had a hard time convincing the President of the United States. In 1969, the Lions again posted a perfect record, but President Richard Nixon famously declared Texas No. 1 after the undefeated Longhorns beat unbeaten Arkansas in their season-ending showdown.
The pollsters agreed with Nixon, and the Lions finished second, despite going 30 consecutive games without losing, dating to early in the 1967 season.
More disappointment followed in 1973 when another unbeaten PSU team finished fifth in both polls. The Lions had the consolation that year of featuring Heisman Trophy-winning running back John Cappelletti.
It finally all came together for the coach and his program in 1982 when the Lions won their first national championship after beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
They won another crown in 1986, securing the title with a stunning upset in the Fiesta Bowl against a Miami (Fla.) team many thought was unbeatable. The Lions intercepted Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde five times in the game.
Not everything went as Paterno planned
Things didn't always go Paterno's way on the field.
In 2002, Paterno voiced criticism of officiating after three of Penn State's losses involved close calls late in the games that went against the Lions.
After an overtime loss to Iowa, Paterno rushed down the field and grabbed an official's jersey to protest two late calls.
During that season, a referee doll was hung from Paterno's front door and was later joined by a Paterno doll that seemed to be poking the official in the chest.
Paterno insisted he did not put the dolls on the door but hinted his wife did. "It was put up there by somebody who is close to me," he said. "You've got to have a laugh once in a while."
In a 2006 game at Wisconsin, Paterno suffered a fractured shinbone and two torn knee ligaments after a sideline collision. He missed the next game against Temple, only the second contest he was absent from in his head coaching career, and was relegated to the press box for subsequent games.
In 2008, Paterno had hip-replacement surgery shortly following the season, after consistent pain when walking forced him to again coach from the press box.
Shortly before his final season started, Paterno was accidentally run over by one of his players at practice and was hospitalized with shoulder and hip injuries. He returned for the season but spent much of the time again coaching from the press box.
Paternos' philanthropy helped mold PSU
Although Paterno posted 11 or more victories in 13 seasons, won a record 24 bowl games and saw more than 250 of his former players make the NFL, he will also be remembered for his philanthropy.
He and his wife and children gave the university $3.5 million in 1998 to endow faculty positions and scholarships and in support of two building projects.
The Paternos contributed more than $4 million to the school during his tenure, and the coach's well-rounded lifestyle, which included interest in literature and opera, was unique.
"How many football coaches majored in English literature at an Ivy League School?" former PSU athletics director and longtime Paterno friend Jim Tarman once asked. " I think the fact that he has such a broad range of interests is one of the reasons our football program has been different."
It all came crashing down in stunning fashion in the fall of 2011, however, causing many of Paterno's critics to cry that the coach had too much power.
In what is regarded as perhaps college athletics' greatest scandal, all the wins and all the bowls weren't enough to allow Paterno to go out on his own terms.