Paterno dead at 85 two months after lung cancer diagnosis

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.

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 the age of 85. Mount Nittany Medical Center said Paterno died of metastatic small cell carcinoma of the lung at 9:25 a.m. ET.

His death came just over two months after his son Scott announced on Nov. 18 that his father had been diagnosed with a treatable form of lung cancer. The cancer was found during a follow-up visit for a bronchial illness. A few weeks later, Paterno broke his pelvis after a fall but did not need surgery.

His family released a statement Sunday morning to announce his death: "His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled."

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"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."

New PSU head coach Bill O'Brien, who currently is serving as the New England Patriots offensive coordinator, released a statement on Paterno's death before Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens.

"On behalf of Penn State Football, we offer our sincerest condolences to the Paterno family for their loss," O'Brien said. "We also offer our condolences to the Penn State community and, in particular, to those who wore the Penn State colors, our Nittany Lion football players and alumni. Today they lost a great man, coach, mentor and, in many cases, a father figure, and we extend our deepest sympathies."

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.

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.

At a preliminary hearing for the school officials, McQueary testified that he had seen Sandusky attacking the child with his hands around the boy's waist but said he wasn't 100 percent sure it was intercourse. McQueary described Paterno as shocked and saddened and said the coach told him he'd "done the right thing" by reporting the encounter.

Paterno waited a day before alerting school officials but never went to the police.

Sandusky released a statement, via The New York Times, following the news of Paterno's passing.

"This is a sad day! Our family, Dottie and I would like to convey our deepest sympathy to Sue and her family," Sandusky said.

Sandusky continued: "Joe preached toughness, hard work and clean competition. Most importantly, he had the courage to practice what he preached."

When the scandal erupted in November, Paterno said he would retire following the 2011 season. He also said he was "absolutely devastated" by the abuse case.

"This is a tragedy," he said. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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