Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Joe Paterno left a legacy of football records and scandal

Penn State's Joe Paterno, who died Sunday, won more football games than any other major college coach. But his reputation was tarred by the child sex abuse scandal that brought his career to a stunning end.

By Genaro C. ArmasAssociated Press / January 22, 2012

Penn State running back John Cappelletti (l.) stands with football coach Joe Paterno (c.), and actor Bob Hope after being named the 1973 Heisman winner in New York. 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.

Marty Lederhandler/AP/File

Enlarge

State College, Pa.

Happy Valley was perfect for Joe Paterno, a place where "JoePa" knew best, where he not only won more football games than any other major college coach, but won them the right way: with integrity and sportsmanship. A place where character came first, championships second.

Skip to next paragraph

Behind it all, however, was an ugly secret that ran counter to everything the revered coach stood for.

Paterno, a sainted figure at Penn State for almost half a century but scarred forever by the child sex abuse scandal that brought his career to a stunning end, died Sunday at age 85.

IN PICTURES: The life of Joe Paterno

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 a program based on the credo of "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 roamed the sidelines for 46 seasons, his thick-rimmed glasses, windbreaker and jet-black sneakers as familiar as the Nittany Lions' blue and white uniforms. He won 409 games and two national championships.

The reputation he built looked even more impressive because he insisted on keeping graduation rates high while maintaining on-field success.

But in the middle of his 46th season, the legend was shattered. Paterno was engulfed in a child sex abuse scandal when a former trusted assistant, Jerry Sandusky, was accused of molesting 10 boys over a 15-year span, sometimes in the football building.

Paterno at first said he was fooled. But outrage built quickly when the state's top cop said the coach hadn't fulfilled a moral obligation to go to the authorities when a graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, told Paterno he saw Sandusky with a young boy in the showers of the football complex in 2002.

Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer