Paterno was literally one for the ages

Jan. 22, 2012 at 12:24 PM   |   0 comments

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa., Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Joe Paterno's 45 seasons as head football coach at Penn State was the equivalent of a geological epoch in a field where longevity can be a scarce commodity.

Paterno, 85, died Sunday of complications of lung cancer a matter of months after he was hustled out the door amid an exploding scandal that landed him in front of a grand jury and called into question his management of a college football program that had literally been his life's work.

The university's board of trustees said in a written statement that Paterno, was "a great man who made us a greater university."

"His dedication to ensuring his players were successful both on the field and in life is legendary and his commitment to education is unmatched in college football," the statement said. "His life, work and generosity will be remembered always."

The university said it would pay appropriate tribute to Paterno in the coming months, and there will be a lot to salute.

Through a combination of longevity and a consistent series of solid teams, the venerable "JoePa" racked up a list of NCAA records, some of which had been set by college immortals such as Bear Bryant, Eddie Robinson and Amos Alonzo Stagg.

Paterno posted a 409-136-3 record after becoming head coach of Penn State during President Lyndon Johnson's administration in 1966. He joined the Nittany Lions staff as an assistant when Harry Truman was in office.

He won nearly 75 percent of his games and is one of only three coaches to post 400 career victories, finishing with a record 409 wins. Paterno last season passed Grambling's Robinson to become the winningest coach in major college football. In 2007, he passed Stagg's major college record of 41 years coaching at one school.

Paterno also holds records for bowl appearances with 37 and bowl victories with 24. He was 12-5 in BCS contests and won the national championship in 1982 and 1986. He guided Penn State to five undefeated seasons.

While beloved to the point that he was immortalized by a bronze statue at Beaver Stadium, Paterno did not exit in triumph. Instead of retiring to soak in the testimonials, Paterno was dismissed with little ceremony in November amid allegations that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky had routinely molested young boys, sometimes on school property.

Paterno had to testify to a grand jury that while he had passed reports of Sandusky's alleged wrongdoing up the chain of command, he now believed he "should have done more."

Paterno was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Dec. 21, 1926. He played football at Brown in the late 1940s following a brief stint in the U.S. Army. He joined the Nittany Lions coaching staff in 1950 and was named head coach when Rip Engle retired after the 1965 season.

He was survived by widow, Suzanne, five children and 17 grandchildren.

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