Joe Paterno Passes Away at the Age of 85

Story posted January 22, 2012 in CommRadio, News, Sports, Joe Paterno by Dan Smith

Joe Paterno, the legendary head coach of Penn State football for 46 seasons, died Sunday. He was 85.

Paterno's death was confirmed by Paterno's family. The cause was complications from lung cancer.

Paterno had been diagnosed with cancer in November and was receiving chemotherapy treatment. Reports indicated that the cancer was curable but that the chemotherapy had taken a toll on Paterno. Concerns about his health grew after a widely publicized interview with Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post described him as weakened and struggling to speak.

Paterno had dealt with a number of health related issues in recent years. In 2006, he broke his leg on the sidelines after a player was tackled into him. In 2008, he had hip replacement surgery after he injured himself coaching at a practice. Paterno again injured his hip in August, when a player collided with him at practice. He reinjured that hip after a fall in his home following his cancer diagnosis.

The former head coach had been on Penn State's football staff since 1950. He was hired as the full-time head coach after his predecessor, Rip Engle, retired in 1965. He held the position of head coach until November 9, 2011, when he was fired by the university's Board of Trustees.

Paterno was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1926. He attended Brown University, where he played quarterback and cornerback. After graduating, it was Engle, who coached him at Brown, who hired him as an assistant coach at Penn State.

Paterno would become a highly successful coach at Penn State, achieving great success on the field and having a tremendous impact on the university community off the field. He won 409 games at Penn State, making him the winningest head coach in the history of Division I college football.

Paterno was known for his "Grand Experiment," in which he hoped to have his players achieve success on the field and in the classroom. His players have consistently achieved higher marks in the classroom than the Division I norm.

Paterno donated millions of dollars to Penn State during his career. His efforts helped to finance the Paterno Library, the Penn State All-Sports Museum and the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center. He has also been an advocate for Penn State's Dance Marathon ("Thon"), which has raised tens of millions of dollars for pediatric cancer.

His Nittany Lion teams won national championships in 1982 and 1986. He also had five undefeated teams and won 24 bowl games. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in May 2006.

In 2004, after his teams struggled for several years, Paterno was asked to retire by then president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley. However, he insisted upon staying on, promising a rejuvenation in 2005. That season would indeed see Penn State back in the big time, as his team went 12-1 while winning the Orange Bowl.

The end of Paterno's reign as head coach came in November, when he was fired by the Board of Trustees following the arrest of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky for child sex abuse charges. The Board cited his inaction in reporting Sandusky to the authorities and the inability for Paterno to continue to effectively coach the team in the wake of the scandal as reasons for their decision. Paterno expressed disappointment but admitted he wished he had done more.

Paterno was succeeded as head coach in the interim by Tom Bradley, who had been on Penn State's staff for over 30 years, most recently as defensive coordinator. His permanent replacement is Bill O'Brien, the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots.

While Paterno received criticism for his role in the scandal, the former head coach was still widely embraced by the Penn State community for his years of service to the Penn State and State College community.

Paterno was very close to his family throughout his life. His wife Suzanne was a constant presence in the community and often joined him in philanthropy efforts. His son Joseph Jr. ("Jay") was the quarterbacks coach for the football team for the last 17 seasons. He is also survived by four other children: Diana, Mary Kay, David and Scott, and 17 grandchildren.

Paterno's statue sits just outside of Beaver Stadium. Paterno is quoted on the wall behind the statue.

"They ask me what I'd like written about me when I'm gone," he said. "I hope they write that I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach."

Dan Smith is a junior majoring in Broadcast Journalism and is ComRadio's Executive Editor. To contact him, email