The 85-year-old Paterno had endured a difficult end to his otherwise hugely successful 61-year stint in State College. After establishing himself as the winningest coach in college football history and building a reputation as a man of deep integrity, Paterno saw his career end in the most unexpected of ways: He was fired in November of 2011, after allegations of sexual abuse were made against a former longtime Penn State assistant, Jerry Sandusky. Though Paterno was not charged with any wrongdoing in the case, the university fired him for not doing more when he was confronted with allegations about Sandusky in 2002.
The Sandusky case marred but did not completely destroy Paterno's legacy. That much was made clear in the hours after his death, when tributes to Paterno rolled in from around the country. Some of those statements and tributes are excerpted here:
The Paterno Family's Official Statement
"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. 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.
When he decided to forego a career in law and make coaching his vocation, his father Angelo had but one command: make an impact. As the last 61 years have shown, Joe made an incredible impact. That impact has been felt and appreciated by our family in the form of thousands of letters and well wishes along with countless acts of kindness from people whose lives he touched. It is evident also in the thousands of successful student athletes who have gone on to multiply that impact as they spread out across the country."
Penn State Coach Bill O'Brien, Paterno's Successor
"The Penn State Football program is one of college football's iconic programs because it was led by an icon in the coaching profession in Joe Paterno. There are no words to express my respect for him as a man and as a coach. To be following in his footsteps at Penn State is an honor. Our families, our football program, our university and all of college football have suffered a great loss, and we will be eternally grateful for Coach Paterno's immeasurable contributions."
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer
"I am deeply saddened to learn about the passing of coach Joe Paterno. He was a man who I have deep respect for as a human being, as a husband and father, as a leader and as a football coach. I was very fortunate to have been able to develop a personal relationship with him, especially over the course of the last several years, and it is something that I will always cherish. My prayers and thoughts go out to his wife, Sue, and to their family, and also to the family he had at Penn State University. We have lost a remarkable person and someone who affected the lives of so many people in so many positive ways. His presence will be dearly missed. His legacy as a coach, as a winner and as a champion will carry on forever."
Nebraska Athletic Director and Longtime Coach Tom Osborne
"I am saddened to hear the news of Joe Paterno's passing. Joe was a genuinely good person. Whenever you recruited or played against Joe you knew how he operated and that he always stood for the right things. Of course, his longevity over time and his impact on college football is remarkable. Anybody who knew Joe feels badly about the circumstances. I suspect the emotional turmoil of the last few weeks might have played into it. We offer our condolences to his family and wish them the very best."
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany
"We are deeply saddened by the loss of Joe Paterno. His passing marks a tremendous loss for Penn State, college football and for countless fans, coaches and student-athletes. Our condolences go out to the Paterno family and to the entire Penn State community."
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio
"On behalf of my immediate family and the Michigan State football family, we express our deepest sympathy to Joe Paterno’s wife Sue, his five children and 17 grandchildren, as well as his extended family, the Penn State football family and the entire State College community.
Joe dedicated his life to Penn State and college football. He had unparalleled success during his 46 seasons as the head coach at Penn State. Joe was a major player who helped revolutionize the game of college football. In his six-plus decades at Penn State, he influenced and impacted countless numbers of players and people at a championship level.
Over the past five years, my wife and I have had the privilege of spending time with both Joe and his wife Sue. We appreciated and enjoyed the time spent at our various functions together and will forever remember him as a steward of our profession."
Michigan coach Brady Hoke
"I am certainly saddened by the news today of Coach Paterno's passing. College football has lost one of its greatest, a coaching icon. Even though I was just an assistant when our teams faced one another, I feel honored to have shared the field with Joe. His players' love for him, it shows how he touched their lives and it tells who he was as a man. He will be missed. His mark on Penn State and college football will never be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Joe's family and friends and the entire Penn State community."
Miami coach and former Penn State player Al Golden
“Joe Paterno not only fulfilled a promise he made to his father by making an impact, he left an indelible piece of himself with everyone in his life. The values Coach Paterno instilled in each of us that were fortunate enough to play for or work alongside him will never be diminished. They are manifested in our leadership, character, class and dedication to improving the lives of others in the classroom, workforce and community. They are distinctly evident in the way we raise our children and the type of husbands and fathers we have grown to be. I am forever grateful for the impact that Joseph Vincent Paterno has made on my life. I am not ashamed to say to Coach and his family that the way all of your former players will carry your legacy forward is by humbly improving the lives of those around us every day. Thank you Joe!”
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill
“I got home last night from recruiting and my oldest daughter said she had just heard. Fifteen minutes later, my youngest daughter at Murray State called. That's two girls from a coach's family reacting to it. That really sums up his impact. It hits home. He coached for 60 years with more than 100 players per year. Think about how many lives he touched, how many good things he has done.
From my family to the Paterno family, our prayers go out to them. It's a sad day for football, but a good day for the man upstairs. I would tell people not to forget what that guy has done. To coach for 60 years in one place, that just won't ever happen again. I didn't get to coach against him. But I got to coach in the Big Ten, sit next to him at a meeting and have my picture taken with him. That's something I will never forget.”