Legendary former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in major college football history but fired during the 2011 season amid allegations he took insufficient action to prevent the sexual abuse of children by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, died this morning. He was 85. His family confirmed his death with a statement that reads in part:
It is with great sadness that we announce that Joe Paterno passed away earlier today. His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled.
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. His ambitions were far reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them. He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community.
Paterno was battling lung cancer, and a family spokesman confirmed yesterday Paterno’s condition had worsened and was now listed as “serious.” Reports then circulated saying the coach had died, but that report was later proven untrue.
Paterno, of course, leaves behind a complicated legacy at Penn State. His on-field record speaks for itself, but the allegations against Sandusky are as bad as it gets. Despite all those wins, in the wake of the horror of the Sandusky scandal – and the knowledge that the university had of those allegations – it was hard to argue that the ouster of just about everyone high up in the school’s power structure, Paterno included, wasn’t deserved.
So as we said last night, of course it’s important to remember the true victims of the Sandusky scandal are the children he allegedly abused. But that doesn’t mean Paterno’s end isn’t depressing in its own right.
Even though he shared in the blame, to see the storied program he’d built come crashing down like that, followed by him dying so quickly after his career ending (reminiscent of Bear Bryant)…it’s no wonder some attached the phrase “Greek tragedy” to the story of Paterno’s life since November – an end one would be hard-pressed to wish on anyone.