In the immediate aftermath of the charges against Sandusky, Mr. Paterno seemed not to grasp the seriousness of the matter, issuing a statement that appeared to ignore the victims and then leading "We are . . . Penn State" cheers on the lawn of his home, where a crowd had gathered.
His many supporters, meanwhile, saw it all differently. They blamed the trustees. They wondered how a coach who had done so much for the school could have been treated so callously, so hastily, and so harshly, especially since he had already offered to step down at the end of the 2011 season.
The night of the firing, thousands of Penn State students took to the streets of State College to protest the decision. Their reaction and the shock, dismay, and round-the-clock media coverage the scandal had generated was stark evidence of the prominence of Mr. Paterno, not just in his adopted state but throughout the nation.
With his death, the lingering questions about what he knew, when he knew it, and how he might have acted differently likely will remain unanswered.
The Grand Experiment
For all the accomplishments Mr. Paterno's teams piled up on the football field, he was at least as well-known for an ethos he said was shaped by his idealistic father and by Aeneas, the Greek hero of legend who inspired him as a high-schooler.
Mr. Paterno's oft-cited Grand Experiment was a belief that football and academics could coexist peacefully. He urged players to develop other interests. He frequently criticized the sport's win-at-all-cost philosophy and its increasing emphasis on money, and cemented his crusader's image by rejecting several lucrative offers from NFL and college teams.
And yet he was not entirely "St. Joe," the sarcastic nickname given to him by colleagues who found his penchant for preachiness sanctimonious.
He possessed a fierce competitive streak, a trait his brother would characterize as "a maniacal need to be first." Mr. Paterno drove himself, his assistants, and his players hard, and in doing so won more games than any coach in Division I history.
Mr. Paterno had a sharp tongue and, particularly during the demanding practices he conducted, could be hypercritical and dismissive of assistants and players.
"He's a lot like your parents," said Charlie Pittman, a star halfback at Penn State in the 1960s. "It's sometimes difficult to appreciate them until you've grown and become a parent yourself."
As Mr. Paterno aged, he grew crankier, more confrontational with reporters and referees. In 2002, Mr. Paterno chased referee Dick Honig following a loss and grabbed him from behind.
By then, the bespectacled, Brooklyn-born coach was a legend, his milestones so numerous and impressive that he was named to the College Football Hall of Fame while still active, in 2006.
At Penn State since 1950, he had been the Nittany Lions' head coach since succeeding Rip Engle in 1966, an almost unimaginable stretch of 548 games. He produced countless all-Americans; future NFL stars; and, as he liked to point out, scores of successful businessmen, lawyers, doctors, and even a concert pianist.
After the Nittany Lions' 1982 national title, Mr. Paterno famously lectured the trustees about the importance of capitalizing on the moment by
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