Legendary Penn State coach dies at 85

Photo Courtesy of ESPN

Joe Paterno, the longtime Penn State football coach who won more Division I NCAA games than any other coach, died Sunday at the age of 85.

Paterno's family released a statement Sunday morning announcing his death.

"He died as he lived," the statement said. "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."

Former President George W. Bush also extended condolences to the family of the legendary coach.

"He was an outstanding American who was respected not only on the field of play but in life generally," President Bush said, "and he was, without a doubt, a true icon in the world of sports. I was proud that he was a friend of mine."

On Nov. 18, Paterno's son Scott said his father was being treated for lung cancer, which had been diagnosed during a follow-up for a bronchial illness. A few weeks later, Paterno fell and broke his pelvis.

Paterno, known as "JoePa," won 409 games and took the Nittany Lions to 37 bowl games and two national championships while going undefeated in five different seasons. Of the players he coached, more than 250 went on to the NFL

After the Florida Gators beat Penn State 37-24 in the 2011 Outback Bowl, the Ohio State coach offered some insight of his own.

"He will go down as the greatest football coach in the history of the game," Urban Meyer said.

Paterno was with Penn State for 61 years and served as head football coach for 46 seasons. Most would agree his final days with the university were his toughest.

In early November last year, the coach was engrossed by a scandal when Former Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged with sexually assaulting 10 boys over 15 years. Two university officials stepped down after they were charged with perjury following a grand jury investigation of Sandusky. But attention quickly shifted to the alleged rape that took place in a shower in the football building, witnessed by Mike McQueary, who was a graduate assistant at the time.

McQueary testified that he had seen Sandusky attacking the child and then told Paterno, who waited a day before alerting school authorities. Police were never called and the state's top cop later said Paterno failed to execute his moral responsibility by not contacting police.

"You know, (McQueary) didn't want to get specific," Paterno said. "And to be frank with you, I don't know that it would have done any good because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So, I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it."

The morning of Nov. 9, Paterno announced he would retire following the 2011 season, and added he was "absolutely devastated" by the case.

"This is a tragedy," he said. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

Paterno was fired via a telephone call that night during the university trustees emergency meeting, along with University President Graham Spanier, who was one of the longest-running university presidents in the country.

Even after the scandal, the downtown College Avenue was covered with Joe Paterno merchandise, representing the thousands of students and fans who still supported him.

The Paterno family statement asked in lieu of flowers or gifts that donations be made to the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania or the Penn State-THON (The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon).