Joe Paterno, or ‘JoePa’ to his many fans, soared to great heights in the college football world. But, sadly, he experienced great lows in the months leading up to his death.
The coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions for 46 years, Paterno took his team to a record-breaking 409 Division I college football wins. Retired Florida State coach Bobby Bowden has the second most wins at 389.
Paterno was born on December 21, 1926. He became an assistant head coach at Penn State in 1950, and took over as head coach in 1965. Over the years he was offered positions as a head coach of several pro teams, but turned them down.
During his career, Joe Paterno 24 bowl games, more than any other coach, and had 29 top 10 annual finishes in the national rankings. In 1986 he was named ‘Sportsman of the Year’ by Sports Illustrated. In 2005 he was the AP Coach of the Year. In 2006 he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, but his induction was delayed due to an injury from a sideline collision, and he was actually inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.
While still beloved by many fans, the last few months of his life were troubled and riddled with accusations of scandal. A former Penn State defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of eight young boys over a period of 15 years, including incidents in the team’s locker room at Penn State. A witness claims to have reported an incident of abuse to Paterno. According to a grand jury report, Paterno notified Penn State administrators. Prosecutors in the case have said Paterno met his legal requirements regarding the incident. However, he came under intense criticism for not doing more, such as notifying law enforcement himself. Paterno was fired as head coach in January.
In November, 2011, it was announced that Paterno had a treatable form of lung cancer. On January 13, 2012, he was hospitalized due to complications from the cancer treatment. He died nine days later, on January 22, 2012.