Nightly News   |  January 22, 2012

Paterno dies at 85

The former Penn State Coach leaves behind a nearly five-decade legacy that was tainted by a child sex scandal within his staff. NBC's Ron Allen reports.

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>> the nittany lions every season since lyndon johnson was in the white house , nearly half a century, pacing the sidelines at penn state . a look back tonight from nbc's ron allen .

>> reporter: joe paterno was one of the greatest figures ever in college sports . 46 years as head coach at penn state , 409 victories, the most of the division one school. from his idealistic early days , paterno had implemented what he called a grand experiment, to graduate more players while maintaining success on the field. most recently his teams consistently ranked monday the best in the big ten for graduating players. the coach took the nittany lions to 37 bowl games , and two national championships , hundreds of the players he coached went on to the nfl. penn state became known as happy valley .

>> people ask me why i stayed here so long, and, you know what, look around. look around. i stayed here because i love you all!

>> reporter: but last year, everything changed. in his final days, paterno battled lung cancer , his spirit and legacy battered by the child sexual abuse scandal centered around his long time assistant jerry sandusky .

>> i had never had to deal with something like that. and i didn't feel adequate.

>> reporter: penn state fired paterno last november. he had been widely criticized for not taking more responsibility or confronting sandusky. after his dismissal, paterno tried to stay positive.

>> i've had a wonderful experience here at penn state . i don't want to walk away from this thing bitter.

>> reporter: joseph paterno was born december 21st , 1926 in brooklyn, new york, a depression era child of italian immigrants . he graduated from brown university , served a year in the u.s. army as world war ii ended, and then went to coach at penn state as an assistant where he stayed for 61 years. beyond all the football glory , paterno also gave millions of dollars to penn state for academics. a legendary coach, in the end tainted by scandal, who leaves a very complicated legacy behind. ron allen , nbc news, new york.