Joe Paterno Jr., whose glittering career as Penn State’s football coach was tainted by a child sex-abuse scandal, died today. 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,” Paterno’s family said in a statement.
Paterno coached the Nittany Lions for 46 years and in 2011 became the winningest coach in Division 1 football. But before the season was over, he was abruptly dismissed as the sex scandal involving former assistant Jerry Sandusky suggested that top school officials had ignored signs of Sandusky’s alleged predatory behavior.
Shortly after his dismissal, Paterno was diagnosed with lung cancer and broke his hip.
In a recent interview with the Washington Post, he appeared frail, wearing a wig and speaking in a whisper. He canceled public appearances after the interview because of his failing health, according to family members.
For Paterno’s legion of fans, who referred to the coach affectionately as “JoePa,” the turbulent final months of Paterno’s life were a tragic end to an outstanding coaching career that was built around his motto of “success with honor.”
His personal life included service in the Army, an English degree from Brown University, a marriage that lasted more than half a century, and a football team’s worth of children and grandchildren.
While at Penn State’s helm, Paterno, who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., led the Nittany Lions to seven undefeated seasons and two NCAA championships, had only five losing seasons, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007, and was nominated for a Presidential Medal of Freedom. The nomination was revoked, however, after the scandal broke.