Joe Paterno tells players of retirement in tears

Joe Paterno stands on the field before Penn State's NCAA college football game against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., Oct. 22, 2011.
AP Photo

Penn State's Nittany Lions and their football coaching staff learned of Joe Paterno's retirement Wednesday during an emotional meeting that in the end focused on the team's immediate future, players said.

"Beat Nebraska," junior quarterback Stephon Morris said was Paterno's main message in the 10-15 minute meeting, a reference to the team's upcoming game Saturday.

Standing at a podium in an auditorium of the school's football facility, Paterno told the team he was leaving at the end of this season and broke down in tears. Morris said some players 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."

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The announcement came days after former defensive coordinator and one-time heir apparent Jerry Sandusky was charged over the weekend with molesting eight young boys between 1994 and 2009. Athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with failing to notify authorities after an eyewitness reported a 2002 assault.

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While Paterno said he would retire at the end of the season, the school's trustees could still force him to leave immediately.

In a statement, Paterno said the school's Board of Trustees, which had been considering his fate, should "not spend a single minute discussing my status" and has more important matters to address.

The beloved 84-year-old Paterno has been engulfed by outrage that he did not do more to stop Sandusky after a graduate assistant came to Paterno in 2002 after allegedly having seen the former assistant coach molesting a 10-year-old boy in the Penn State showers.

At the team meeting Wednesday, players gave Paterno a standing ovation when he walked out.

Paterno said he was "absolutely devastated" by the case. He said he hoped the team could finish its season with "dignity and determination."

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

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.