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Joe Paterno: December 21, 1926 – January 22, 2012

Paterno lived an honorable life, but not without flaws

RIP Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno, the all-time leader in coaching wins in division one football, has died at the age of 85, ending a battle with lung cancer just two and a half months after being terminated as head coach of Penn State‘s football program. The Paterno family released a statement Sunday morning confirming the news of the legendary coach’s passing.

“It is with great sadness that we announce that Joe Paterno passed away earlier today,” he Paterno statement read.

Paterno won 409 games during a coaching career that goes back to 1950, when he came to Penn State as an assistant head coach under his former head coach at Brown, Rip Engle. Paterno served as an assistant for 16 seasons until replacing Engle as head coach in 1966. Paterno would lead Penn State until November of 2011 when he was relieved of his duties in the wake of a damning Jerry Sandusky scandal that rocked the campus and community surrounding Penn State. During his lengthy coaching career Penn State won a pair of national championships and had more undefeated teams go unrewarded for their efforts, most recently in 1994.

Paterno was more about academics than he was with performance on the field. Having a program built on molding men was more of an achievement for Paterno than winning football games. Paterno’s players routinely received high marks in the classroom and Penn State’s football players regularly ranked highly as a team, with the likes of Northwestern and Stanford, more than a number of universities where football is a way of life. Paterno and his wife donated millions back to the university, which helped to build a wing on to the school’s library, which is named after him.

Paterno won multiple coach of the year awards, and a small handful of Big Ten titles. In 1986 Sports Illustrated named Paterno their Sportsman of the Year, an honor usually reserved for athletes. His 24 bowl victories are more than many schools have totaled bowl appearances. Paterno was inducted in to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007. A year later Paterno led his last team to a BCS game, with the 2008 Nittany Lions reaching the Rose Bowl, Paterno’s second trip to Pasadena.

Penn State won the final game of Paterno’s coaching career, holding on for a late win against Illinois when an Illinois field goal clanked off the goal post. The win broke a tie with Eddie Robinson for the most wins in division one college football history. By the time Penn State played their next football game, Paterno was controversially terminated.

The Paterno family requests that donations to the Special Olympic and THON be made in Joe Paterno’s honor, in lieu of flowers. Paterno was a strong supporter of the Special Olympics and THON.

“His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled,” a Paterno family statement reads. “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.”

Paterno is survived by his wife, Sue, five children.

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About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
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