January 22, 2012 / 12:50 AM / 6 years ago

Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno's health status serious

Penn State University head coach Joe Paterno watches his team before the start of their NCAA football game against the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois in this October 3, 2009 file photo. The health of Paterno, who was fired last November in the wake of a sex abuse scandal involving an assistant coach, has deteriorated and his status is serious, a family spokesman said on January 21, 2012. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

(Reuters) - The health of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who was fired last November in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal involving an assistant coach, has deteriorated and his status is serious, a family spokesman said on Saturday.

“Over the last few days Joe Paterno has experienced further health complications. His doctors have now characterized his status as serious,” a statement said.

The Paterno family said it would have no further comment on the situation and asked that their privacy be respected “during this difficult time.”

Paterno, 85, disclosed on November 18 that he had treatable lung cancer. He has been in and out of the hospital since then for treatment with radiation and chemotherapy, and after he fell at home in December and broke his pelvis.

The winningest coach in major college football history, Paterno was head coach at Penn State for 46 years. University trustees ousted him for failing to tell police what had been passed on to him about the alleged sex abuse.

People gather at the Joe Paterno statue outside Beaver Stadium in the Penn State University campus in State College, Pennsylvania January 21, 2012. Former Penn State football coach Paterno, fired in the wake of a sex abuse scandal at the university, is in serious condition after health complications in recent days, a family spokesman said on Saturday. REUTERS/Pat Little

Longtime Paterno assistant Jerry Sandusky faces 52 counts of sexual abuse of boys over a period of 15 years, including some incidents at the football complex on campus. Disclosure of the charges against Sandusky shocked the university and led to one of the biggest scandals in college sports history.

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno leaves his residence in State College, Pennsylvania November 9, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer

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.

Trustees of the university fired Paterno on November 9 with four games remaining in the football season. His ouster sparked demonstrations by students who felt he was treated unfairly, and anger among some alumni. The two top officers of the university trustees stepped down this week.

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.

Reporting and Writing by Greg McCune; Editing by Cynthia Johnston

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