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.
When he broke the news to his team, he broke down and cried.
"Actually, this is probably the first time I've ever seen him cry," said Linebacker Nate Stupar. "It's just hard to see a huge, key person of Penn State go like this."
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. 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.
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.
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.
"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.
"I never thought I'd hear those words coming from Joe Paterno's mouth. He's been here so long,'' junior fullback Michael Zordich said.
Players gave him a standing ovation when he walked out.
"In all the clips I've seen of him, I've never seen him break down and cry. And he was crying the whole time today,'' quarterback Paul Jones said. "He said it's the best decision.''
Cornerback Stephon Morris said some players also were nearly in tears while 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.