Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno is dead at 85
UNIVERSITY PARK — Some came clutching flowers and hats and candles before placing them at the base of the bronze statue of Joe Paterno. Others hung on to each other. For at least 10 minutes, Heidi Lewis stood in the biting cold, her arms wrapped tightly around her 8-year-old daughter, Sophia.
“We were at church and heard the news,” Lewis said, her eyes red and watery but not from the chill. A professional photographer, she was one of the minority not snapping pictures. “He has defined our community in so many ways and added so many positive things to life here. I’ve known so many of the family members. It’s heartbreaking for the community. The last few months have been gut-wrenching.”
Paterno died of metastatic small cell carcinoma at 9:25 a.m. Sunday, two months after university trustees fired him as Penn State University’s head football coach in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal. Paterno was 85.
His actions and inactions regarding the scandal have been and will continue to be debated. But the magnitude of Paterno’s life — and now death — appears inarguable. An entire college town and its central Pennsylvania surroundings, along with much of the nation, mourned the loss not only of the winningest major college football coach but also of a unique and constant presence for generations of townsfolk and alumni.
“His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled,” the Paterno family said in a statement. “He died as he lived. He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been.”
Sons Jay and Scott Paterno took to Twitter to offer thanks for support and prayers.
“He felt your support in his fight,” Jay Paterno said.
A candlelight vigil Sunday night drew thousands to the snow-covered lawn outside the Old Main administration building on campus.
The university’s Blue Band performed, and speakers included quarterback Matt McGloin and former All-American Stefen Wisniewski of the Oakland Raiders.
“It wasn’t enough to win football games,” Wisniewski said. “He wanted to do it with players who wanted to be great, who wanted to be leaders in the community and wanted to be great husbands and fathers.”
Said Emily Dong, a junior from State College: “Joe Paterno, I think, is kind of like a father figure to this university. He did a lot of great things, not just for the university but for the town. … A lot of bad things have been said about him, but he’s done a lot of great things, too.”
At peace in the end
Prayer, song and home-cooked meals filled Paterno’s final days, which he lived out at Mount Nittany Medical Center.
Battling lung cancer since mid-November as well as a broken pelvis suffered in a fall in December, Paterno was hospitalized for a final time Jan. 13 for what family members called minor complications.
Paterno, however, took a turn for the worse this past week. His wife, Sue, called for members of their family and the Penn State family to say “last goodbyes,” said Kenny Jackson, a former Penn State assistant coach who played receiver on the 1982 national championship team.
“It became a celebration of his life,” Jackson told the Tribune-Review. “There were pictures everywhere. Those kids were there for their dad, and Sue made sure I had some home cooking. ‘Kenny,’ she said, ‘Go see your pop, give him a kiss, and then have some cooking.’
“If you are that lucky to have that many loved ones around you at the end, like Joe did, you’ve had a good life.”
Paterno, though tired, was alert and could converse through Friday, and he died “at peace,” Jackson said.
He was surrounded by his wife, their five children — sons Joseph Jr., or Jay; David; Scott; and daughters Diana Giegerich and Mary Kathryn Hort — and 17 grandchildren. Former football players and their families, including Franco and Dana Harris, paid their respects. A priest led visitors in songs such as “Amazing Grace,” Jackson said.
Funeral arrangements were not yet known.
Penn State alumni, former players and fans flocked to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to mourn Paterno’s death.
“We should not be discouraged by his death but encouraged by his life … it would be a blessing to impact others the way he did,” said Devon Still, a Nittany Lions senior defensive tackle.
The political world also chimed in, locally and from afar, most notably former President George H.W. Bush.
“He 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,” Bush said.
Paterno’s relationship with Bush showed his reach beyond the secluded Penn State campus. He was one of several speakers who seconded Bush’s nomination for president at the 1988 Republican National Convention.
At the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on campus, where Joe and Sue Paterno sometimes attended services, about 150 students and community members arrived early yesterday. About 9:45 a.m., the priest asked the congregation for a moment of prayer for the Paternos.
Jo Dumas, a senior lecturer at Penn State, sat in the back row with her husband, Charles, also a university professor. They both wore shirts that read: “Coach Paterno, Only One Thing: Thank You.”
“I’m wearing this very much on purpose,” Jo Dumas said, teary-eyed. “He’s part of our family. He’s part of this community, and we love what he’s done for this university.”
In downtown State College at McLanahan’s, which sells anything with a Penn State logo, John Walter, a junior pitcher on the baseball team, had two candles for last night’s vigil but was out of luck searching for the Paterno T-shirt he wanted.
Grace Mehalik, the store manager for 37 years, said Paterno merchandise was sold out or moving fast, including shirts, filled Coke bottles from the 1986 national championship season (“not for consumption,” the sign warned), mugs, bobbleheads and Christmas ornaments.
Born Dec. 21, 1926, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Paterno was the oldest of Angelo and Florence Paterno’s four children. He attended Brown University and played quarterback under Rip Engle.
His lifelong association with Penn State started as a pit stop on his way to law school. Paterno followed Engle to Penn State in 1950 to work briefly as an assistant coach until he could save some money.
Yet, Paterno felt drawn to what became his life’s work.
He succeeded Engle after the 1965 season and won his first game, a 15-7 victory over Maryland, on Sept. 17, 1966. He employed a simple football philosophy: Success with Honor.
Paterno married the former Suzanne Pohland of Latrobe in 1962, the year she graduated from Penn State, and the couple had five children. All became Penn State graduates.
Despite his widespread fame and success, the Paternos remained committed to living in the same ranch-style house only blocks from campus. He often walked to his office and to Beaver Stadium on game days. The Paterno phone number remains listed in the phone book.
The Paternos are credited with giving an estimated $4 million to various university fundraising efforts. In 1984, the family established the Paterno Libraries Endowment with gifts totaling $120,000. By 2010, its value had grown to more than $4 million, with a personal donation of $250,000.
The Paterno legacy
Paterno elevated Penn State to prominence during his 46-year tenure as head coach. He won 409 games and two national championships and led the Nittany Lions to five undefeated seasons.
His “Success with Honor” mantra — and his players’ execution on the football field and in the classroom — became the envy of university administrators nationwide.
Yet, as much as Paterno’s success was celebrated, his fall was equally as stunning in the wake of child sexual-assault accusations against his longtime defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky.
The grand jury investigation, which began while now Gov. Tom Corbett was state attorney general, cleared Paterno of legal wrongdoing. But he came under widespread criticism for failing to do more to stop the abuse. He announced he would resign at the end of the season, but trustees fired him Nov. 9 in a phone call from U.S. Steel Chairman John Surma, whose brother played for Paterno in the late 1960s.
The late-night decision drew nationwide attention and set off a student-led riot in downtown State College.
The Sandusky scandal changed many people’s perception of Paterno.
Paterno himself expressed grief over the fallout.
“I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case,” Paterno said just before he was fired. “I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief. This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”
Over time, Paterno’s legacy will be carried forward by countless people, said Anthony Lubrano, 51, of Glenmoore, who graduated in 1982.
“Joe Paterno stands for so much more than that one event,” said Lubrano, a major university donor. “His legacy is truly all of us. His deeds are certainly important, but the greatest legacy of Joe Paterno is that he has touched the lives of so many people both on and off the football field in a positive way.”
Reaction to Paterno’s death
From a former U.S. president to a former Penn State president, notable people offered their perspectives on Sunday:
“I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Joe Paterno. He 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. I was proud he was a friend of mine.” — Former President George H.W. Bush
“I am saddened to hear about the death of Joe Paterno. He did so much for the game of football, and he was a good person with integrity who cared for so many people. I considered him a dear friend.” — Dan Rooney, Steelers chairman emeritus and ambassador to Ireland
“We grieve for the loss of Joe Paterno, 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 university plans to honor him for his many contributions and to remember his remarkable life and legacy.” — Rodney Erickson, Penn State president
“It was my privilege and honor to work with Joe Paterno for more than 16 years. He was a distinguished American, a legendary coach and Penn State’s greatest ambassador. He provided unprecedented leadership for academic advancement, philanthropy and athletic excellence and integrity for more than 60 years.” — Graham Spanier, former Penn State president
“Dottie and I would like to convey our deepest sympathy to Sue and her family. Nobody will be able to take away the memories we all shared of a great man, his family and all the wonderful people who were a part of his life. … Joe preached toughness, hard work and clean competition. Most importantly, he had the courage to practice what he preached.” — Jerry Sandusky, former Penn State defensive coordinator
“Words cannot express the sorrow my family and I feel. Joe has been an integral part of my life for more than 35 years. Joe coached me, mentored me, taught me what it meant to compete with integrity and honor, and above all demonstrated with each day that he lived, the power of humility.” — Tim Curley, former Penn State athletic director
“I had the sincere honor and distinct pleasure to work with Joe for many, many years at Penn State. No one loved Penn State more than Joe. We will all miss him.” — Gary Schultz, former Penn State vice president
“The terms ‘icon’ and ‘legend’ have been often used to describe Joe Paterno. … But to those of us who played for him, to those of us who coached with him and to those of us who had the privilege to call him a friend, Joe Paterno was much more. … Coach Paterno never believed that his role as ‘Coach’ ended after practice, or when the fourth quarter wound down or when a student-athlete graduated. He was a coach for life. I am deeply grateful to have had Coach Paterno in my life. He was the epitome of class, and his spirit will live on in all of us who had the great honor of knowing him.” — Tom Bradley, former Penn State interim head coach
“His legacy as the winningest coach in major college football and his generosity to Penn State as an institution and to his players stand as monuments to his life. As both man and coach, Joe Paterno confronted adversities, both past and present, with grace and forbearance. His place in our state’s history is secure.” — Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania governor
“On behalf of alumni here in Pittsburgh I would like to thank Joe for all he has done for Penn State the past 62 years. … I promise we alums will fight FOREVER to defend this great man’s good name and honor.” — Daniel Byrd, president of Penn State Alumni Association Greater Pittsburgh chapter
“To Sue and the Paterno children: Thank you for so unselfishly sharing your husband and father with so many of us for so long. Through him, we all witnessed and learned lessons of respect, loyalty and, of course, ‘Success with Honor.’ Further, he taught us how to be elite without being elitist. … 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. When we lead our lives with generosity, commitment and humility, we carry on the legacy of Joseph V. Paterno.” — Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship
“The Penn State football program is one of college football’s iconic programs because it was led by an icon in the coaching profession in Joe Paterno. There are no words to express my respect for him as a man and as a coach. To be following in his footsteps at Penn State is an honor. Our families, our football program, our university and all of college football have suffered a great loss.” — Bill O’Brien, Penn State football coach
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Joe Paterno. His passing marks a tremendous loss for Penn State, college football and for countless fans, coaches and student-athletes.” — Jim Delany, Big Ten commissioner
“Joe Paterno’s impact on the game of college football was great, as was his influence on the countless number of players who called him ‘Coach.’ The University of Pittsburgh offers its heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones.” — Statement on behalf of the University of Pittsburgh
“One of the greatest college coaches of all time and a great man.” — Jimmy Johnson, former Miami coach
“Joe Paterno was an icon above icons in the football coaching profession. What he accomplished as a football coach will never ever, ever, be threatened. When you think of a word to describe Joe Paterno and what he did at Penn State, the word ‘unimaginable’ comes to mind. That a man could give that much of himself to coach football and shape young men’s lives at one school for that many years speaks volumes for what that man is about.” — Don Nehlen, former West Virginia coach
“He loved college football & coached with commitment to excellence. He loved his players & his players loved him.”â¢ — Lou Holtz, former Notre Dame coach (via Twitter)
“I’ve coached around 300 college games, and only once when I’ve met the other coach at midfield prior to the game have I asked a photographer to take a picture of me with the other coach. That happened in the Citrus Bowl after the ’97 season when we were playing Penn State. … I still have that photo in the den at my house. That’s the admiration I have for Joe Paterno.” — Steve Spurrier, South Carolina coach
“Keep the Paterno family in your prayers during this tough time. To the greatest R.I.P Joe P” — Maurkice Pouncey, Steelers center (via Twitter)
“Deeply saddened about the loss of my coach & mentor, Joe Paterno. You have been a positive influence to so many young men on & off the field” — Derrick Williams, former Penn State wide receiver (via Twitter)
“At a loss for words… One of the most influential men in our nations history. By his passing PSU nations grows even stronger. Love you Joe” — Jordan Norwood, former Penn State wide receiver (via Twitter)
“R.I.P Coach. I owe you so much! My prayers are with the Paterno family and the Penn State Family.” — Kermit Buggs, former Penn State assistant coach (via Twitter)
“RIP Joe…thank you” — Derek Moye, Penn State senior receiver (via Twitter)
“RIPJoePaterno Nothing but love and gratitude!” — Nate Stupar, Penn State senior linebacker (via Twitter)
“Rest In Peace Coach. You have been my idol. You are a one of a kind man. Words cannot express all my feelings.” — Graham Zug, former Penn State wide receiver (via Twitter)
“We should not be discourage by his death but encouraged by his life..it would be a blessing to impact others the way he did” — Devon Still, Penn State senior defensive tackle (via Twitter)
“I had the great opportunity to meet and get to know Joe Paterno through college recruiting and he truly was an amazing person.” — Brian Cushing, Houston Texans tight end (via Twitter)
“So sad to hear the news of Joe Pa’s passing! What an impact he made on college football! Many prayers for the family” — Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys tight end (via Twitter)
Joe Paterno by the numbers
409: Career victories (all at Penn State, the most in Division I history)
247: Players drafted into NFL
78: First-team All-Americans
62: Years as a coach at Penn State (46 as head coach)
49: Academic All-Americans
37: Bowl appearances (all-time record)
35: Teams that finished in the Top 25
33: First-round selections in the NFL Draft
25: Appearances in New Year’s Day bowl games
17-8: Record in New Year’s bowl games
24: Bowl victories (all-time record); 24-12-1 overall
24: Times that Penn State won the Lambert-Meadowlands Trophy, emblematic of Eastern football supremacy
23: Finishes in the top 10 of the national rankings
12: U.S. presidents, starting with Harry Truman, who have served since he joined Penn State’s coaching staff
8: Former players in the College Football Hall of Fame (John Cappelletti, Keith Dorney, Jack Ham, Ted Kwalick, Lydell Mitchell, Dennis Onkotz, Mike Reid and Curt Warner)
7: Undefeated regular seasons
6: Fiesta Bowl victories (Paterno never lost the game)
5: AFCA Coach of the Year honors
5: Undefeated, untied seasons (1968, 1969, 1973, 1986 and 1994)
4: Former players enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Ham, Franco Harris, Lenny Moore and Mike Munchak)
3: Big Ten titles (1994, 2005 and 2008)
2: National championships (1982 and 1986)
1: Heisman Trophy winners (Cappelletti)
Gov. Tom Corbett has ordered all Pennsylvania flags at state facilites to fly at half staff through sunset on Thursday to honor former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who died on Sunday at 85.
Paterno will be buried on Wednesday, his family announced.
A public viewing will be held from 1 to 11 p.m. today at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on Penn State’s University Park campus. A second public viewing is scheduled from 8 a.m. to noon Wednesday, with a private family funeral service later that day.
A public memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Bryce Jordan Center. Admission requires a ticket, which is free. A limit of two tickets per person will be available starting today at 10 a.m. Fans can order tickets online at gopsusports.com/tickets . Tickets also can be ordered by calling 1-800-648-8269.