STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - Days after losing the job he held for nearly a half century, former Penn State coach Joe Paterno was diagnosed with a treatable form of lung cancer.
The news came shortly after Penn State said the NCAA would look into the school’s handling of a child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Paterno was fired by the board of trustees Nov. 9 for failing to do more about an abuse allegation against Sandusky than report it to his superiors.
“Last weekend, my father was diagnosed with a treatable form of lung cancer during a follow-up visit for a bronchial illness,” Scott Paterno said in the brief statement. The doctor’s visit came the same weekend the school played its first game since the 1960s without Paterno leading the Nittany Lions _ Penn State lost, 17-14 to Nebraska.
“As everyone can appreciate, this is a deeply personal matter for my parents, and we simply ask that his privacy be respected as he proceeds with treatment,” Scott Paterno said.
Earlier Friday, The Citizens Voice of Wilkes-Barre reported that Paterno had been seen Wednesday visiting the Mount Nittany Medical Center and was treated for an undisclosed ailment and released.
Sandusky is charged with sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years _ charges which he denies. Critics say Paterno should have done more to stop his former assistant, specifically when he was told about an assault in 2002. But the longtime coach is not a target of the ongoing investigation of Sandusky.
Paterno initially announced his retirement effective at the end of the season, saying that the scandal was “one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.” The trustees fired him anyway, about 12 hours later.
Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley replaced Paterno on an interim basis. He broke the news about Paterno’s cancer to the Nittany Lions after the team arrived in Columbus, Ohio, for Saturday’s game against Ohio State.
“I told them sometimes words pale at a time like this. I felt they should hear it from us, exactly what it was, that we were told that it was a treatable lung cancer,” Bradley said. “It’s just one of those things. It’s a tough time for the players.”
Former Penn State quarterback Todd Blackledge, now an ESPN analyst, said Paterno never mentioned the illness when he visited his former coach Thursday in State College.
“In a week or so of many surprises this was another one,” said Blackledge, who noted that Paterno was in good spirits when he saw him. A Penn State spokesman said that as far as he knew, Paterno never smoked.
To say health problems added to Paterno’s troubles during a rough period doesn’t begin to capture the last two weeks. The lurid Sandusky scandal has tarnished the reputation of a coach and a football program that once prided itself on the slogan “Success with Honor.”
The Hall of Famer’s 409 career victories are a Division I record. In all, Paterno guided five teams to unbeaten, untied seasons, and won two national championships.