Joe Paterno, college football's all-time winningest coach who was fired by Penn State amid a child sex abuse scandal, died after battling lung cancer, his family announced Sunday. He was 85.
Over his 46-year career as head coach, Penn State's Nittany Lions won two national championships and went undefeated for five different seasons. Paterno — known as "JoePa" to his players and football fans — won the National Coach of the Year Award five times and became the winningest coach in 2011 with 409 wins. A Brown University graduate who was born in Brooklyn, he served as an assistant coach at Penn State for 15 years before becoming head coach in 1966.
Paterno was fired in November shortly after former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged with more than 50 counts involving sex acts with young boys dating back to 1994. He came under fire for not doing enough to alert authorities once he learned of early allegations about Sandusky.
"It is with great sadness that we announce that Joe Paterno passed away earlier today," the family statement said. "His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled."
Paterno had been in serious condition after suffering from lung cancer and a broken pelvis, which he sustained after falling in his State College, Pa., home. He was diagnosed with what his family called a treatable form of lung cancer shortly after he was fired. Paterno was hospitalized twice — once in December after his fall and once in January for "minor complications" stemming from his recent cancer treatments.
Paterno's death was prematurely reported by several media outlets late Saturday, including the Penn State student news website Onward State, which was the first to report the misinformation.
Upon learning of his death, ESPN's SportsCenter went with continuous coverage, talking to various broadcasters, former coaches and players to reminisce. At least a couple, Lou Holtz and Matt Millen, said they felt Paterno had died of a "broken heart" after being fired because of the scandal.
Amid the reports of Paterno's failing heath, hundreds of Penn State students gathered in front of his statue late Saturday and early Sunday. "Just told my Dad about all the love & support — inspiring him," his son, Jay Paterno, tweeted late Saturday.
Live TV shots showed people continuing to gather in front of the statue throughout the day on Sunday.
Paterno is survived by his wife, Susan, and their five children.