* Paterno sacked after winning career as Penn State coach
* Now 84, he has held job since 1966
* Long-time assistant accused of sexually abusing boys
By Mark Egan and Larry Fine
NEW YORK, Nov 9 In a country mad for college
football, Joe Paterno -- known simply as "JoePa" -- represented
almost a deity of the sport.
But the sterling reputation he built during almost five
decades as head coach at Penn State University has been sullied
by allegations that a long-time assistant coach sexually abused
boys and school officials tried to cover it up.
Paterno, 84, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame,
was ignominiously sacked late on Wednesday just hours after he
said he would retire at the end of this season.
The end to the storied coaching career of Paterno, whose
fans would have liked to have seen lead the team out for one
last home game at Beaver Stadium, came amid a scandal so sordid
it has been compared to the cases of pedophile priests in the
Roman Catholic Church.
A titan as a coach, Paterno was unrivaled by his peers for
the longevity of his success. Known for his thick glasses and
navy windbreaker, he promoted the lofty notion that football
players could excel on the field and in the classroom.
"Joe and (his wife) Sue are as close to deities as you can
get in this town," said Nick Savereno, who attended Penn State
and owns a sandwich shop near the campus at State College, the
Pennsylvania town where he grew up.
The campus was in shock on Wednesday afternoon after the
coach said he would resign. Students cried, some were angry and
some called for the university president to resign. Supporters
left flowers at Paterno's simple split-level home.
Then late Wednesday evening, students massed on campus
after Paterno's sudden dismissal, fired after a meeting of the
university's board of trustees who also fired Graham Spanier,
president of Penn State for 16 years.
"Graham Spanier is no longer president of the university
... Joe Paterno is no longer the head football coach, effective
immediately," John Surma, vice chairman of trustees, told a
press conference, announcing the end of Paterno's reign.
Surma added, "We don't yet know all the facts and there are
many details that are yet to be worked out."
Earlier in the day, Paterno's football team prepared for
the final home game of the season on Saturday as they closed in
on a place in the first-ever Big Ten Championship game.
Underlining what a big presence Paterno was in U.S. college
football, the winner of the inaugural Big Ten final will get
the Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy named after Paterno and
pioneering coach Amos Alonzo Stagg.
Fans of the Nittany Lions, named after mountain lions that
once roamed near State College and the landmark Mount Nittany,
would have wanted Paterno's final game to be a celebration like
none in memory at Beaver Stadium.
Instead, Paterno was replaced after 46 years seasons by Tom
Bradley, currently defensive coordinator, who will take over as
interim head coach.
Such is the hoopla surrounding the team and its coach that
students camp out at Beaver Stadium before home games in what
locals call "Paternoville."
"I think that he really, really, really loves the school
and he would do anything for the kids and for the team," said
Gabby Laura, 18, after Paterno's announced his resignation. "I
support him completely. I'm really sad to see him go."
As one of America's premier state colleges, Penn State has
long used Paterno's image to help attract the best students and
his likeness on its literature to convince alumni and donors to
support their programs.
With 409 victories at Penn State, Paterno has won more
games in big-time college football than any other coach in the
history of a sport dating back to the late 19th century. Only a
handful of other coaches, such as the late Paul "Bear" Bryant
of the University of Alabama, are held in such reverence.
Paterno was head coach at Penn State since 1966 -- an
incredible 46 seasons. But he had become very frail and had
coached recently from the press box rather than the sidelines.
A beloved institution in Pennsylvania, he won national
championships in 1982 and 1986 and survived calls that he leave
the post because of his advanced age.
"Success with Honor" is the motto of Paterno's football
program, which boasts high graduation rates among players.
Paterno's former long-time assistant coach Jerry Sandusky
is accused of sexually abusing at least eight boys over a
period of more than a decade. Two other university officials
are charged with not reporting an incident in 2002 when
Sandusky allegedly was seen sexually assaulting a child.
Lawyers for the men have said they maintain their
Paterno, who does not face any charges and was not a target
of the criminal investigation, said he was informed of an
incident involving Sandusky in 2002 and passed the information
up the chain of command to the university's athletic director.
Paterno has been criticized for not following up or doing
more to address the allegations, such as calling the police.
"This is a tragedy," he said in his retirement statement.
"It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of
hindsight, I wish I had done more."
"I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this
case. I grieve for the children and their families and I pray
for their comfort and relief," he said.
The New York Times wrote that if Penn State were the
Catholic Church, Paterno would be the Pope, surely aware of
what was happening and enabling the cover-up.
"With his effective silence, Paterno was protecting not
only himself but also 50 years of mythology that had been
building up around him since he arrived at Penn State as an
assistant during the Truman administration," The Times wrote.
Born in Brooklyn, Paterno played football at Brown
University from 1946-49 before joining Penn State as an
assistant coach in 1950. Sixteen years later he began building
his prodigious resume as head coach.
Paterno steered the Nittany Lions to seven undefeated
regular seasons and Penn State claimed three Big Ten Conference
titles -- one solo in 1994 and as co-winners in 2005 and 2008.
He is also the all-time leader among college coaches with
24 post-season wins in 37 bowl game appearances and is the only
coach to win the Rose, Sugar, Cotton and Orange bowls.
His team struggled in 2003. When he said he would consider
retirement if his 2005 team did not improve, the Nittany Lions
responded with an 11-1 record.
Paterno's program was known for churning out stars who went
on to play in the National Football League. On his watch, Penn
State produced 78 first-team All-Americans -- among them 10
linebackers coached by Sandusky at the school that became known
as "Linebacker U."
More than 350 of Paterno's players have signed NFL
contracts, with 32 of them drafted in the first round.
Paterno was also known for his philanthropy, giving more
than $4 million to Penn State for scholarships, faculty
endowments and construction.
He was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006
but his induction ceremony was delayed a year so he could
recover from injuries suffered in a sideline collision.