MANHATTAN — Brooklyn-born and scandal-scarred football legend Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in major college football, died Sunday at 85, according to reports.
Paterno, who led Penn State to 409 wins in 46 seasons, had been battling lung cancer for months after being fired from the school that he led to two national championships.
"He died as he lived," his family said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. "He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been.
"He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community."
Paterno was let go from the school that he symbolized for nearly half-a-century in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal that rocked the the nation.
His former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, allegedly molested 10 boys over 15 years, sometimes in the school's football facilities, the AP said.
Mike McQueary, a former graduate student at the school, testified that he saw Sandusky with a boy in the school's shower in 2002 and told Paterno, according to the report.
The next day Paterno, known as "JoePa," told school officials about the alleged incident, but never reported it to police.
"You know, (McQueary) didn't want to get specific," Paterno told the Washington Post after losing his job.
"And to be frank with you I don't know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it."
The abuse scandal was a black mark on an illustrious career that included 37 bowl games and two national championships.
Paterno was born in Brooklyn on Dec. 21, 1926 and grew up in Flatbush, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
A fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he attended Brooklyn Prep, nearly dropping out of high school because he thought the $20-a-month tuition was too much for his family to pay, the report said.
From there, he went on to Brown, where he played football, basketball and majored in English literature, the Post-Gazette said.
Despite his father's wish that he would become president and plans to go to law school, Paterno was persuaded at 23 to take an assistant coaching job at Penn State when one of his former coaches at Brown moved there, according to the AP.
"I had no intention to coach when I got out of Brown," Paterno said in 2007 before being inducted into the college football Hall of Fame. "Come to this hick town? From Brooklyn?"