Paterno retiring amid child abuse "tragedy"

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno arrives home Nov. 9, 2011, in State College, Pa. AP Photo

Updated at 6:43 p.m.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Joe Paterno, the Penn State football coach who preached success with honor for half a century but whose legend was shattered by a child sex abuse scandal, said Wednesday he will retire at the end of this season.

Paterno said he was "absolutely devastated" by the case, in which his onetime heir apparent, Jerry Sandusky, has been charged with molesting eight boys in 15 years, including at the Penn State football complex.

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He said he hoped the team could finish its season with "dignity and determination."

The school's board of trustees could still force Paterno to leave immediately. It also could take action against the university president, Graham Spanier.

One emeritus trustee who was on a conference call with the board Tuesday told CBS News, "The tone of last night's call was of concern for all the people involved, including the children, the coach and the reputation of the school."

He said that there was no conversation on the call pushing for Paterno's dismissal, but did not know whether the Executive Board had that discussion.

Paterno said the trustees, who had been considering his fate, should "not spend a single minute discussing my status" and have more important matters to address.

The 84-year-old Paterno has been engulfed by outrage that he did not take more action after a graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, came to him in 2002 and reported seeing Sandusky in the Penn State showers with a 10-year-old boy. Paterno notified the athletic director, Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz.

Penn St. scandal dwarfs others in college sports

Curley and Schultz have since been charged with failing to report the incident to the authorities. Paterno hasn't been accused of legal wrongdoing. But he has been assailed, in what the state police commissioner called a lapse of "moral responsibility," for not doing more to stop Sandusky.

The U.S. Department of Education said late Wednesday that it was launching an investigation into Penn State's handling of the abuse.

"This is a tragedy," Paterno said in a statement. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

Paterno met with his coaching staff and players in the football building at Penn State for about 10-15 minutes Wednesday in what was described as a very emotional session. Standing at a podium, Paterno told them he was leaving and broke down in tears.

Players gave him a standing ovation when he walked out.

Junior quarterback Stephon Morris said some players also were nearly in tears as Paterno spoke.

"I still can't believe it," Morris said. "I've never seen Coach Paterno like that in my life."

Asked what was the main message of Paterno's talk, Morris said: "Beat Nebraska."

The decision to retire by the man affectionately known as "Joe Pa" brings to an end one of the most storied coaching careers, not just in college football but in all of sports. Paterno won 409 games, a record for major college football, and is in the middle of his 46th year as coach.

His figure patrolling the sideline — thick-rimmed glasses and windbreaker, tie and khaki pants — was as unmistakable at Penn State as its classic blue and white uniforms and the name Happy Valley, a place where no one came close to Paterno's stature.

The retirement announcement came three days before Penn State hosts Nebraska in its final home game of the season, a day set aside to honor seniors on the team.

Penn State has bounced back from a mediocre 2010 season to go 8-1 this year, with its only loss to powerhouse Alabama. The Nittany Lions are No. 12 in the AP college football poll.

After 19th-ranked Nebraska, Penn State plays at Ohio State and at No. 16 Wisconsin, both Big Ten rivals. It has a chance to play in the Big Ten championship game Dec. 3, with a Rose Bowl bid on the line.

In the statement, Paterno said: "I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief."

He went on: "I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today."

A day earlier, Paterno had showed up for practice and adoring crowds rallied outside his modest home into the night, chanting his name.

But Paterno, whose football program bore the motto "Success with Honor," could not withstand the backlash from a scandal that goes well beyond the everyday stories of corruption in college sports.

"If this is true, we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families," Paterno said in a statement Sunday. "They are in our prayers."

Sandusky, who retired from Penn State in June 1999, maintained his innocence through his lawyer.

Paterno has defended his decision to take the news to Curley and Schultz. Paterno said it was obvious that the graduate student, since identified as McQueary, was "distraught," but said he was not told about the "very specific actions" of the sexual assault in the grand jury report.

After Paterno reported the incident to Curley, Sandusky was told to stay away from the school. But critics say Paterno should have done more.

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