Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno dies after lung cancer fight
Legendary former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, fired in November after 46 years as head coach in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal involving an assistant, died on Sunday, his family said in a statement.
"He died as he lived," his family said. "He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been."
Paterno, 85, the winningest coach in major college football history, died early on Sunday.
He disclosed he had treatable lung cancer shortly after university trustees ousted him for failing to tell police about a sex abuse allegation years earlier against longtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
A shrine of dozens of votive candles remained lit at the foot of a statue of Paterno outside the football stadium that looms over the hospital where he died.
"Joe was just so much a part of Penn State. He gave back. He loved the school," said Lynn Kyle, 58, a Penn State alumnus who lives nearby. "Penn State fans will always cherish what he has given to this institution. He was loved by all."
A group of alumni who objected to Paterno's firing mourned the death of a coach known for pushing athletes to succeed in the classroom as well as on the football field.
"The most significant tribute to Joe Paterno is the millions of fans -- everyday men, women and children -- he not only entertained, but inspired to be better human beings," said the statement issued by Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship. "When we lead our lives with generosity, commitment and humility, we carry on the legacy of Joseph V. Paterno, one of the truly great leaders of our time."
Paterno had been in and out of the hospital since the cancer disclosure for treatment with radiation and chemotherapy, and also after he fell at home in December and broke his pelvis.
But his family said on Saturday that his health had deteriorated in recent days, and asked that the family's privacy be respected "during this difficult time."
"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," the family statement said on Sunday.
A member of the College Hall of Fame, Paterno was head coach of the Nittany Lions for 46 years. With 409 victories at Penn State, he won more games in big-time college football than any other coach in the sport's history.
But disclosure of the charges against assistant coach Sandusky shocked the university and led to one of the biggest scandals in college sports history, and ultimately to Paterno's ouster on November 9, with just four games remaining in the football season.
The move by trustees triggered demonstrations by students who felt Paterno was treated unfairly, and anger among some alumni. The two top officers of the university trustees stepped down this week.
Sandusky, who has maintained his innocence, faces 52 counts of sexual abuse of boys over a period of 15 years, including some incidents at the football complex on campus.
A Penn State graduate assistant testified to a grand jury that he told Paterno in 2002 that he witnessed Sandusky assaulting a boy in the showers at the football building. Paterno said he passed the information on to his boss, then Athletic Director Tim Curley. But no one told police, and the abuse continued for years, according to prosecutors.
University President Graham Spanier was fired along with Paterno, and Curley and a former finance official in the athletic department face charges of lying to a grand jury about the alleged abuse.
Sandusky is under house arrest awaiting trial on the abuse charges. He has pleaded not guilty.