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So long, in fact, that it seemed there was no getting rid of him, even as age and injuries crept up and his famous resistance to modern technology _ tweeting, texting and other so-called must-haves of 21st century recruiting _ made him seem antique.

But just as much, it was a string of mediocre seasons in the early 2000s that had fans wondering whether it was finally time for Paterno to step aside.

Others questioned how much actual work Paterno did in his later years. He always went out of his way to heap praise on his veteran assistants, especially if an injury or ailment kept him from getting in a player’s face in practice or demonstrating a technique.

“I’m not where I want to be, the blazing speed I used to have,” he said last month, poking fun at himself. “It’s been tough. … it’s a pain in the neck, let me put it that way.”

Paterno cut back on road trips to see recruits. He ended his annual summer caravan across Pennsylvania to exchange handshakes and smiles with alumni and donors.

Still, the question persisted: How much longer was he going to coach?

It was, until this week, the biggest question to dog him over a coaching career that began when Harry Truman was president. That made him no different from the handful of coaching lifers who stay in the game into their 70s and beyond.

“Who knows?” Paterno said with a straight face in October, when he was asked how his latest ailments affected his future. “Maybe I’ll go 10 years.”

A little more than 10 days later, he was fired over the phone.

“This is a tragedy,” Paterno said in an earlier statement, when he said he would quit at the end of the season. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

The terms of his departure could hardly conflict more with the reputation he built in nearly a half-century of turning a quaint program into a powerhouse with instant name recognition.

He made it to the big time without losing a sense of where he was _ State College, population 42,000, a picturesque college town smack-dab in the middle of Pennsylvania.

Paterno and his wife raised five children in State College. Anybody could ring up his modest ranch home using the number listed in the phone book under “Paterno, Joseph V.” That house was the sight of something between a pep rally and a vigil as events unfolded this week. Hundreds of students stood outside chanting his name, paying homage to a coach who brought fame to campus.

In the weeks and years before the current drama, former players would parade through his living room, especially on a busy game weekend, for a chance to say “Hello.”

He was as much a father figure to many of them as a coach.

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