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Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno

Football Player, Coach (1926–2012)
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As head football coach at Pennsylvania State University, Joe Paterno was one of the most successful coaches in the history of collegiate football. His reputation was marred, however, by the university's child abuse sex scandal in 2011, which resulted in his dismissal.

Who Was Joe Paterno?

Joe Paterno was born December 21, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York. Upon graduation from Brown University in 1950, his former coach, Charles (“Rip”) Engle, became head coach at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). After 16 years as Engle's assistant, Paterno succeeded him in 1966. Paterno led Penn State to consecutive undefeated seasons in 1968 and 1969 and another undefeated season in 1973. However, Paterno's upstanding reputation as a collegiate football coach was permanently stained in 2011, after the university's child abuse sex scandal broke out. An FBI investigation revealed that Paterno had concealed information about the abuse committed by his assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who was later convicted of being a longtime child molester and serial rapist.

Joe Paterno Photo

Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno Movie

In 2018 HBO released its film Paterno, which covers the famous coach's involvement in the Penn State sex scandal. Directed by Barry Levinson, the drama stars Al Pacino in the title role. 


After leaving Penn State, Paterno began suffering health problems. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2011. While it was initially thought to be treatable, Paterno succumbed to his illness two months later, on January 22, 2012, at Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, Pennsylvania.


Paterno met Suzanne Pohland while she was a student at Penn State. The two married in 1962 and had five children.


In all, Paterno had an impressive record as the Lions' coach. In 46 seasons, he led his team to 37 bowl appearances with 24 wins. In October 2011, Paterno set a record of his own when Penn State defeated Illinois. This victory marked his 409th career win, making him the leader in career wins for Division I coaches.

Joe Paterno Statue

Unveiled in 2001, the Joe Paterno Statue was commissioned by Paterno's wife and his friends as a way to honor the coach's contributions to Penn State. However, in light of the Sandusky sex scandal, the statue was removed in 2012.

Career Highlights

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Representative Deb Haaland, a Democrat from New Mexico, speaks during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, June 29, 2020. The hearing is titled "U.S. Park Police Attack on Peaceful Protesters at Lafayette Square Park." Photographer: Bonnie Cash/The Hill/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Deb Haaland

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 09: John Major attends the annual Remembrance Sunday Service at the Cenotaph on Whitehall on November 9, 2014 in London, United Kingdom. People across the UK gather to pay tribute to service personnel who have died in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts, with this year taking on added significance as it is the centenary of the outbreak of World War One. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

John Major

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 1: Jason Collins #35 of the New Jersey Nets poses for a portrait during NBA Media Day at the Nets Practice Facility on October 1, 2007 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2007 NBAE (Photo by Ed Jimenez/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jason Collins

In 1966 Paterno became the coach for Penn State University. His first season was a draw, with 5 wins and 5 losses, but he worked hard to build up the school's football program. Before long, Paterno racked up impressive scores, including coaching the team to two undefeated regular seasons in 1968 and 1969.

Over the years, Paterno became a beloved figure at the college. He was known for his trademark thick, square-shaped glasses and for his leadership skills. Nicknamed "Joe Pa," Paterno dedicated himself to his team, the Nittany Lions. He even turned down a chance to coach professional football with the New England Patriots in 1973.

Paterno led the Lions to two National Championships — in 1982 and in 1986. In recognition of his contributions to his winning team, he earned the Sportsman of the Year honor from Sports Illustrated in 1986.

Sandusky Scandal

Not long after reaching his record-making win with his team, Paterno found himself caught up in a scandal. His former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with sexually abusing eight boys during a 15-year period. Paterno had been informed of a possible attack by Sandusky that took place at the university's sports complex in 2002, but he supposedly did little to follow up on the allegation. When this news surfaced, Paterno came under fire for not doing enough to address this alleged assault.

On November 9th, Paterno announced that he would retire at the end of the season, but the college's board decided to dismiss him that same day. After 46 years as a coach, the distinguished Paterno ended his career with a dark cloud hanging over him. Still, in the end, his thoughts were with Sandusky's alleged victims, not on his job. Paterno told the press, "I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief."

Paterno later explained that "I didn't know exactly how to handle it," referring to allegations of sexual abuse against Sandusky. "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 turn out that way."


While scandal may have marred his final days as Penn State's coach, Paterno will also be remembered for developing the university's football program into a national powerhouse, and for preparing roughly 350 of his players for the NFL. Off the field, Paterno proved to be a strong supporter of the school in general, donating more than $4 million during his time there.

Paterno is survived by his wife, five children, and 17 grandchildren. In a statement, his family said: "He died as he lived. He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been ... He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community."

Early Life

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Joe Paterno was first a star athlete in his own right before spending decades leading others to victory. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, Paterno went to Brown University. There he dominated the gridiron as the school's quarterback and led his team to a 8-1 season in his senior year. After graduating from Brown in 1950, Paterno joined his college coach Rip Engle at Penn State University, serving as the assistant coach. He settled down at Penn State, marrying Suzanne Pohland in 1962. The couple had five children together, all of whom later became graduates of Penn State.

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