Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has lost his battle with lung cancer at the age of 85.
Paterno died early Sunday morning at Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College some hours after reports came out late Saturday night that the longtime coach had passed. Those reports were false and Paterno continued to fight until the very end said his family.
He is college footballs all-time wins leader in Division I with 409 wins, the last of which came October 29th against Illinois, which catapulted the icon into first on the all-time wins list, passing Grambling’s Eddie Robinson.
Known for an outstanding career record on the field of 409–136–3, Paterno also contributed millions of dollars to the university in which he led onto the field so many times. The universities library bears the name of not him, but of him and his beloved wife, Sue.
He won many games on the field, including a 24-12-1 record in bowl games, the best all-time, but he also won off the field with consistently high graduation rates among his players. He spent 46 years coaching and molding young men to play football, but he ended up turning them into human beings. He gave them so much more than skills on a football field.
Paterno strived to make a difference through his “Grand Experiment” of merging athletic success on the field and academic success off the field. His experiment has been an overwhelming success, with players often praising the coach for being a father figure in their lives even after their time at Penn State was over.
Despite all of his good throughout his four decades at the school, a sex scandal involving one of his former assistants, Jerry Sandusky, was enough to force the coach from his post. He was fired via phone by the school’s board of trustees on November 8, 2011. He had announced his plans to retire earlier in the night, deciding it was best, but he never got the chance.
Paterno said he wished he had done more with the benefit of hindsight regarding the scandal. He filled his legal obligation but is generally thought of having failed to reach his moral obligation regarding the scandal. Not all of the facts of the case have come out, and until then it’s wrong to speculate on it any further.
Paterno won two national championships, had five perfect seasons and had the honor of being inducted into college football’s Hall of Fame while he was still coaching.
He is survived by his wife, Sue, his five children and 17 grandchildren. He is also survived by the Penn State community, who’ll surely never forget the man with those coke bottle glasses, rolled up pants and black shoes.