Family, football meant everything to Paterno
Other than family, football was everything to Joe Paterno. It was his lifeblood. It kept him pumped.
Life could not be the same without it.
“Right now, I’m not the coach. And I’ve got to get used to that,” Paterno said after the Penn State Board of Trustees fired him at the height of a child sex abuse scandal.
Before he could, he ran out of time.
Paterno, a sainted figure at Penn State for almost half a century but scarred forever by the scandal involving his one-time heir apparent, died Sunday at age 85.
His death came just 65 days after his son Scott said his father had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Mount Nittany Medical Center said he died at 9:25 a.m. of “metastatic small cell carcinoma of the lung,” an aggressive cancer that has spread from one part of the body to an unrelated area.
Friends and former colleagues believe there were other factors — the kind that wouldn’t appear on a death certificate.
“You can die of heartbreak. I’m sure Joe had some heartbreak, too,” said 82-year-old Bobby Bowden, the former Florida State coach who retired two years ago after 34 seasons in Tallahassee.
Longtime Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said he suspected “the emotional turmoil of the last few weeks might have played into it.”
And Mickey Shuler, who played tight end for Paterno from 1975 to 1977, held his alma mater accountable.
“I don’t think that the Penn State that he helped us to become and all the principles and values and things that he taught were carried out in the handling of his situation,” he said.
Paterno’s death just under three months following his last victory called to mind another coaching great, Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant, who died less than a month after retiring.
“Quit coaching?” Bryant said late in his career. “I’d croak in a week.”
Paterno alluded to the remark made by his friend and rival, saying in 2003: “There isn’t anything in my life anymore except my family and my football. I think about it all the time.”
The winningest coach in major college football, Paterno roamed the Penn State sidelines for 46 seasons, his thick-rimmed glasses, windbreaker and jet-black sneakers as familiar as the Nittany Lions’ blue and white uniforms.
His devotion to what he called “Success with Honor” made Paterno’s fall all the more startling.
Happy Valley seemed perfect for him, a place where “JoePa” knew best, where he not only won more football games than any other major college coach, but won them the right way. With Paterno, character came first, championships second, academics before athletics. He insisted that on-field success not come at the expense of graduation rates.
But in the middle of his final season, the legend was shattered. Paterno was engulfed in a child sex abuse scandal when a former trusted assistant, Jerry Sandusky, was accused of molesting 10 boys over a 15-year span, sometimes in the football building.