Joe Paterno's condition 'serious'

Updated: January 22, 2012, 9:07 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Joe Paterno, Division I's all-time winningest coach who was fired by Penn State in November, has experienced further complications from treatment from lung cancer and is in serious condition, a family spokesman said in a statement Saturday.

"Over the last few days Joe Paterno has experienced further health complications," the spokesman said Saturday. "His doctors have now characterized his status as serious. His family will have no comment on the situation and asks that their privacy be respected during this difficult time."

Paterno's cancer diagnosis was revealed Nov. 18, just nine days after he lost his job in the fallout of sexual abuse charges against former assistant Jerry Sandusky. Paterno's been getting treatment since, and his health problems were worsened when he broke his pelvis -- an injury that first cropped up when he was accidentally hit in preseason practice last year.

Paterno
Paterno

A source told The Citizens' Voice of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Saturday that Paterno's family has asked close friends and former staff members to come to the Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, where Paterno has been undergoing treatment.

Paterno remained connected to a ventilator Saturday night, individuals close to Paterno's family told The Washington Post, and his family was debating taking him off the ventilator Sunday.

After CBSSports.com reported that Paterno had died, Scott Paterno, Joe's son, and the family spokesman denied the reports.

"CBS report is wrong - Dad is alive but in serious condition. We continue to ask for prayers and privacy during this time," Scott Paterno wrote on Twitter.

CBSSports.com later said that it was relying on information from Onward State, a Penn State blog. Onward State retracted its report, saying "We were confident when we ran with it, and are still trying to figure out where our process failed. We apologize sincerely for error." Onward State's managing editor announced his resignation later Saturday.

Dan McGinn, the family's spokesman, told ABC News that reports of Joe Paterno's death at this time are "false."

Another of Paterno's sons, Jay Paterno, thanked fans for their support.

"I appreciate the support & prayers. Joe is continuing to fight.," Jay Paterno wrote on his own Twitter account.

Paterno won two national championships and a Division I-record 409 games over 46 seasons at Penn State and the family has donated millions of dollars to the school.

But his legacy was clouded in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal that has resulted in 52 counts of child molestation against Sandusky. Paterno had announced his retirement early on Nov. 9, but the Penn State board of trustees fired him and university president Graham Spanier about 12 hours later. That day, Paterno called the scandal "one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

In his first public statements since the scandal broke, Paterno recently told The Washington Post that he did not know how to deal with the situation when he received a report from a graduate assistant that his former defensive coordinator was accused of abusing a boy in the showers.

"I didn't know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was," he told The Post in an extensive two-day interview at his home in State College, Pa., that was released to the public on Jan. 14. "So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn't work out that way."

The Post account described Paterno, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, as physically weakened from his chemotherapy treatments, speaking with a rasp. The interview, conducted on Jan. 12-13, was monitored by his attorney, Wick Sollers, and a communications adviser, Dan McGinn.

Sandusky says he is innocent and is under house arrest after posting $250,000 bail. His next court appearance is a March 22 pretrial conference.

In addition, Penn State athletic director Tim Curley, who is on leave, and a school vice president, Gary Schultz, face trial for charges of perjury and failing to report suspected child abuse and have left the school.

Paterno said he wished he knew how allegations against Sandusky didn't come to light until this year. "I don't know the answer to that," he told The Post. "It's hard."

The trustees' firing of Paterno has come under scrutiny from several former players, as well as some alumni critical at meetings this week with school president Rodney Erickson about the motivation to oust Paterno.

Paterno announced late on Nov. 9 that he would retire at the end of the season but just hours later he received a call from board vice chairman John Surma, telling him he had been terminated as coach. By that point, a crowd of students and media were outside the Paterno home. When news spread that Paterno had been dumped, there was rioting in State College.

Police on Saturday night had barricaded off the block where Paterno lives, and a police car was stationed about 50 yards from his home. A light was on in the living room but there was no activity inside. No one was outside, other than reporters and photographers stationed there.

About 200 students and townspeople gathered Saturday night in State College at a statue of Paterno just outside a gate at Beaver Stadium.

Some brought candles, while others held up their smart phones to take photos of the scene. The mood was somber, with no chanting or shouting.

Jay Paterno tweeted, "Drove by students at the Joe statue. Just told my Dad about all the love & support--inspiring him."

In an interview with The Associated Press on the Penn State campus Thursday, the trustees said they fired Paterno in part because the football coach didn't meet a moral obligation to do more to alert authorities.

A day after the graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, came to see him, Paterno relayed the accusations to his superiors, one of whom oversaw campus police. Board members didn't think that was enough.

"There's an obligation, a moral responsibility, for all adults to watch out for children, either your own or someone else," trustee Mark Dambly told The AP. "It was in our opinion that Joe Paterno did not meet his moral obligation and for that reason -- me, personally for that reason, I felt he could no longer lead the university and it was unanimous."

The trustees said they also felt Paterno had challenged their authority and that, as a practical matter, with all the media in town and attention to the Sandusky case, he could no longer run the team.

On Thursday, Sollers, Paterno's lawyer, called the board's comments self-serving and unsupported by the facts. Paterno fully reported what he knew to the people responsible for campus investigations, Sollers said.

"He did what he thought was right with the information he had at the time," Sollers said.

Paterno remains employed as a tenured faculty member at Penn State, and details of his retirement were being worked out and would be made public when finalized.

The schools trustees have said they intend to honor Paterno's contract as if he had retired at the end of the 2011 football season and in Thursday's interview with The AP, Dambly and three other trustees said they still intended to honor Paterno's accomplishments and contributions to the school.

"Obviously Joe Paterno is a worldwide icon and has done a tremendous amount for the university," trustee Joel Myers said. "We have sorrow and all kinds of emotions, empathy, sympathy for what has occurred. That's universal."

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.