Legendary college football coach Joseph Vincent Paterno lost his battle with lung cancer on January 22, 2012. He held the record for the most victories by an NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) football coach with 409 wins. Former President George H. W. Bush’s tribute encapsulated Paterno’s famed athletic accomplishments, philanthropy and overall legacy by saying that Paterno was “an outstanding American who was respected not only on the field of play but in life generally…and he was, without a doubt, a true icon in the world of sports”.
Paterno was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007. As the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions for 46 years, he led the Nittany Lions to 37 bowls with 24 victories. Paterno was a beloved figure that greatly impacted his students. He placed tremendous emphasis on both athletics and academics and donated $4 million to Penn State and built a library there.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Paterno went to Brown University with the goal of becoming a lawyer. His college football coach, Rip Engle, persuaded Paterno to become his assistant coach at Penn state where Engle later coached. Paterno signed on as assistant coach in 1950 and became head coach in 1965. Paterno turned down offers to coach such National Football League (NFL) teams as the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers in order to coach the Nittany Lions.
After 61 years of coaching at Penn State, Paterno was dismissed on November 5, 2011 after his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, was arrested and charged with over 40 counts of sexual abuse. Mike McQueary, then-graduate assistant, reported to Paterno that he saw Sandusky abusing a 10-year-old boy in a shower in the Penn State football team’s locker room. Paterno notified Athletic Director Tim Curley the next day about McQueary’s report and later told Gary Schultz, supervisor of the University Police force. While Paterno did report the incident and was not in any legal trouble, the question is whether he did his duty in properly reporting and the issue and making sure that Sandusky was appropriately handled. Hundreds of Penn State students gathered in front of the coach’s house in his support on November 8th. On November 9th, Paterno resigned as coach with the following statement: “I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.”
Under Paterno, Penn State won two national championship games, had five undefeated seasons and four major bowl wins. Paterno led the team to win the following: four Orange Bowls, two Cotton Bowl Classics, six Fiesta Bowls, the Liberty Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Aloha Bowl, the Holiday Bowl, the Citrus Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the Outback Bowl and the Alamo Bowl. Penn State won the Big Ten Championship three times and had 29 finishes in the Top 10 rankings.
In November 2011, Joe Paterno’s son Scott reported that his father had a treatable form of lung cancer. On January 13, Coach Paterno was hospitalized for complications from his lung cancer. Paterno remained in the hospital until his death nine days later.