Sports

Legendary coach Paterno ’50 dead at 85

By
Sports Editor
Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Joe Paterno ‘50 passed away Sunday after 46 years as Penn State head coach.

Joe Paterno ’50 died Sunday morning, only two and a half months after his 46-year tenure as head football coach at Pennsylvania State University came to a close in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal. Paterno, who was undergoing chemotherapy for a treatable form of lung cancer, died from complications at the age of 85. He is survived by his wife and five children.

Paterno was hospitalized Jan. 13.  A family spokesperson released a statement Jan. 21 announcing that doctors listed him in serious condition. Later that day, the Penn State student website Onward State reported that Paterno was dead. CBS Sports, CNN and other news outlets subsequently reported that Paterno had died. Soon thereafter, the news was refuted by a family spokesperson and Paterno’s sons. “Joe is continuing to fight,” wrote Jay Paterno on his Twitter account.

Jay Paterno later tweeted that the news of students congregating at his statue outside Beaver Stadium was “inspiring” his father.   

Paterno is the winningest coach in NCAA Division I Football history, having claimed 409 victories with the Nittany Lions, including three Big Ten titles and national championships in 1982 and 1986.

But the legacies of both the program and Paterno were tarnished when longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested in November on charges that he sexually abused minors on Penn State property. The ensuing investigation revealed that Paterno and others had been aware of one incident but chose not to go to police. Paterno was fired by the Penn State Board of Trustees Nov. 9. Paterno’s cancer diagnosis was made public nine days later.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Paterno came to Brown in 1946 after serving a year in the U.S. Army in the final year of World War II. He played on both sides of the ball for the Bears, as a quarterback and cornerback, and owns a share of the school record for interceptions in one season with 14. Off the field, Paterno studied English literature and was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

Paterno graduated in 1950. He forewent law school to move to Penn State that same year as an assistant coach, following Rip Engle, his coach at Brown, who had just accepted the head coaching job in Happy Valley. After Engle retired in 1965, Paterno took over the head coaching duties and held them for nearly half a century.

Paterno also holds an honorary degree from Brown and was named to Brown football’s 125th Anniversary Team in 2003. Since 1991, the Department of Athletics has presented the Joe Paterno ’50 award to an “outstanding first-year varsity male athlete.”

In an interview with The Herald Jan. 11, Director of Athletics Michael Goldberger said no decision on the future of the award has been made and that the department will wait as long as it takes to make an informed decision.