Joseph Vincent "Joe" Paterno (/pəˈtɜrnoʊ/; December 21, 1926 – January 22, 2012), sometimes referred to as "JoePa", was an American college football player and coach who was the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions from 1966 to 2011. With 409 victories, Paterno is the winningest coach in FBS history. His career ended with his dismissal from the team as a result of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal.
Paterno was born in Brooklyn, New York and attended Brown University, where he played football both as the quarterback and a cornerback. Originally planning to be a lawyer, he instead signed on as an assistant football coach at Penn State in 1950, persuaded by his college coach Rip Engle who had taken over as Penn State's head coach. In 1966, Paterno was named as Engle's successor. He soon coached the team to two undefeated regular seasons in 1968 and 1969. The team won two national championships—in 1982 and 1986. Paterno coached five undefeated teams that won major bowl games and, in 2007, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach. In all, he led the Nittany Lions to 37 bowl appearances with 24 wins while turning down offers to coach National Football League (NFL) teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots.
After the child sex abuse scandal involving his former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky broke in full in November 2011, Paterno announced he would retire at the end of the season. However, on November 9, the Penn State Board of Trustees rejected this offer and fired him, effective immediately. An investigation conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh concluded in July 2012 that Paterno concealed facts relating to Sandusky's sexual abuse of young boys. The investigation also uncovered information that Paterno may have persuaded university officials not to report Sandusky to authorities in 2001. On July 23, 2012, the NCAA vacated all of Penn State's wins from 1998 through 2011 as part of its punishment for the child sex abuse scandal, eliminating 111 of the games Paterno had coached and won, dropping him from first to 12th on the list of winningest NCAA football coaches. The NCAA reversed its decision on January 16, 2015 and restored the 111 wins to Paterno's record.
Paterno died of complications from lung cancer on January 22, 2012, only two months after his firing.
By Dean Hanley
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