respect, others pointed to a weak Penn State schedule, filled with traditional
Eastern rivals like Army, Navy, Syracuse, and Maryland.
Mr. Paterno saw the wisdom in the criticism. Penn State began scheduling national powerhouses such as Alabama, Notre Dame, and Nebraska.
Penn State finished 11-1 in both 1977 and 1978. Still, a national championship eluded Mr. Paterno.
The Nittany Lions could have won one, but in a 1979 Sugar Bowl matchup with Bryant's Alabama, a fourth-quarter goal-line stand saved the game for the Crimson Tide. Mr. Paterno, who never beat Bryant in head-to-head matchups, called the defeat the most painful of his career.
Penn State finally reached the pinnacle after the 1982 season, declared national champs after a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia and Herschel Walker.
An academic crusader
That same January, Mr. Paterno made his first appearance before the group that nearly 30 years later would fire him, the university's board of trustees.
His talk there, an unvarnished appeal for the university to use the football team's title as a way to improve the entire institution, came to be known around State College as "Penn State's Gettysburg Address."
"It bothers me to see Penn State football No. 1 and then pick up a newspaper and find a report that many of our academic departments and disciplines are not rated up there with the leading institutions of the country," he said.
Penn State, he added, needed to raise more money, hire better professors, improve existing academic programs, and create new ones. Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly would later joke that the speech undoubtedly marked the first and only time "a coach yearned for a school its football team could be proud of."
Four years later, following a taut Fiesta Bowl triumph over Miami, a star-studded, renegade program that in many ways was the antithesis of Mr. Paterno's, Penn State won a second national championship.
Though he would field another unbeaten team in 1994, Mr. Paterno's Nittany Lions never captured another national title.
All that success did not obscure the things that rankled Mr. Paterno's critics, most of whom disliked what they saw as a "holier-than-thou" attitude.
Asked once whether he might pursue a career in politics, Paterno famously responded: "What . . . and leave college coaching to the Switzers and Sherrills?" referring to Oklahoma's Barry Switzer and Pitt's Jackie Sherrill, successful but controversial rivals.
"People inside college football and outside, like me, felt there was a huge dose of hypocrisy in his ramblings about athletics and academics," Murray Sperber, the author of several books about college sports' excesses, said.
"Sure, he wanted real students on his team. Every coach does. But most of all, like every coach, he wanted to win. He belongs in the same sentence as [Knute] Rockne and Bear Bryant, and if you read their lives, you will see that they also were totally obsessed characters who wanted, above all, to win."
Throughout his career, Mr. Paterno's coaching staff remained remarkably stable. Assistants such as Sandusky, Fran Ganter, Larry Johnson, and Ron Vanderlinden stayed for decades, often spurning offers to be head coaches elsewhere.
Sandusky, who later wrote a book on how to develop them, was as
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