Joe Paterno Death Rumors False, Family Denies Report

Sam WestmorelandFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 3:  Penn State head coach Joe Paterno addresses the media after the game against the Indiana State Sycamores on September 3, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

As it turns out, rumors of former Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno's death were greatly exaggerated. After reports that the longtime college football icon had lost his battle with cancer were given by CBS Sports, Paterno's family took to the Internet, to debunk any and all of the rumors.

Sons Scott and Jay Paterno each issued denials of the report on Twitter, while family spokesman Dan McGinn vehemently denied the rumors as well, while reports from other local media, such as Sarah Ganim of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, indicated the family was less than thrilled by the inaccurate reports.   

The longtime Nittany Lions coach was dismissed from his post late this year, after a scandal involving alleged sexual misconduct by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky tarnished his legacy and that of his program.

When Paterno retired, many in college football saw him as one of the patriarchs of the sport, a man who had been with the same program his entire career, beginning in 1950 as an assistant coach. 

Paterno had been diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year, shortly after being dismissed as the team's head coach. His family members made public statements telling fans and supporters that the cancer was treatable. 

However, as time passed it became clear that the treatments were not going well, and many close to the family wondered if this year would be JoePa's final Christmas. 

The controversy that surrounded Paterno's final season on the sideline obscured what was otherwise one of the greatest, longest, and most impressive coaching careers the sport has ever seen. 

At the time of his retirement, JoePa held the NCAA records for most victories in Division I history, most games coached (tied with Amos Alonzo Stagg), and most bowl game victories by a head coach in the sport's history. His career record of 409-136-3 ranks as one of the highest winning percentages in the history of college football, and few would deny his reputation as one of the sport's greatest coaches.

Paterno inspired generations of football players, and became one of the faces of college football during his career.
Paterno inspired generations of football players, and became one of the faces of college football during his career.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Paterno first came to Happy Valley in 1950, as a quarterbacks coach. 15 years later, he was handed the keys to the program, and promptly built the Nittany Lions into a national powerhouse. 

It was not simply that Paterno won that eventually won him the hearts of football fans the country over; it was how he won. The coach preached the virtues of doing things the right way, requiring players to be students first and athletes second. The diligence and hard work paid off in the 1980s, as Penn State vaulted into the pantheon of elite programs by virtue of a pair of national championships. 

Paterno's program fell on tough times by the time the 21st century rolled around; a stale offensive scheme and lackluster recruiting saw the Nittany Lions struggle to stay relevant in the national consciousness. 

However, despite pressure to retire from the athletic director, JoePa endeared himself to a new generation of students and fans, taking Penn State from records of 3-9 and 4-7 in 2003 and 2004 to an 11-1 record and an Orange Bowl win in 2005.

Despite an offense that seemed at times to be pulled from the pages of a 1950's textbook on football, the Nittany Lions continued to find success on the field, while Paterno moved from icon to football deity as the campus embraced him even more fully. 

In the end, though, Paterno's late-career run of success wasn't enough to save his job during the scandal that rocked the college town during the 2011 season. While Paterno had done his legal duty in reporting the alleged abuse to his superiors at Penn State, many rightfully felt that based on the grand jury testimony available at the time, he had failed to sufficiently alert police to the abuse being committed by Sandusky.

Despite a promise to retire at the end of the season, Penn State's board of directors felt obligated by public pressure to dismiss their iconic coach and sever ties with him entirely following that dismissal, resulting in a riot by the student body in protest of the decision. 

Paterno's legacy remains as one of college football's icons, a venerable figure who served as the face of not just Penn State football, but of the university as a whole. He remains beloved by a significant portion of the Penn State population, and by many college football fans across the country. 

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