Jan 22, 2012

Perhaps the most ironic element when looking at the way Joe Paterno lost his job as Penn State's football coach after 46 seasons is that as a young man, he had his eyes set on law school.

The fallout in 2011 from the child sex-abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, who was an assistant on Paterno's Penn State staff until 1999, prompted the university's Board of Trustees to fire Paterno, then 84, with three games left in the regular season.

Paterno, who died Sunday at 85, was criticized for not going to law enforcement in 2002 once he was told by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary that McQueary had seen Sandusky allegedly sexually abusing a young boy in a shower on campus.

"I didn't know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was," Paterno told The Washington Post in January 2012 in the only interview he gave after the scandal broke. "So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn't work out that way."

Days after he was fired in November 2011, it was disclosed that Paterno had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

In many eyes, the sordid scandal tarnished the legacy of Paterno, who spent 62 seasons on the Nittany Lions football staff and became the winningest Division I coach in the history of the sport.

Steve Shaffer, a 30-year PSU season ticketholder, who saw Paterno's first win as a head coach in 1966, said days after Paterno was let go that "the whole thing is like finding out there's no Santa Claus."

The end to Paterno's tenure came in a way nobody could have predicted.

It was also a football career that almost didn't happen.

In 1950, while a senior at Brown University, where he played football, Paterno was accepted into the Boston University School of Law. While awaiting graduation, he got an offer from Brown's coach, Rip Engle, to be a part-time assistant, working with the team's quarterbacks.

Shortly thereafter, however, Engle accepted the position as head coach at Penn State. His contract allowed him to bring one assistant with him . He chose an "astonished" Paterno, who followed his mentor to the small central Pennsylvania outpost of State College.

Paterno went on to become the national personification of the college football coach and the public face of Penn State, which made his eventual fall all the more compelling.

After succeeding Engle in 1966, what Paterno accomplished in a 46-year head coaching tenure was winning two national championships, having five unbeaten seasons, victories in all five major bowl games — and earning a spot in the Hall of Fame.

He holds records for the most years spent as a head coach at one school and the most victories for a major-college coach, with 409. He was even athletics director at the school from 1980-82.



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