He and his legions of fans probably wish now he had called it quits that day.

With Paterno announcing today that he would retire at the end of the 2011 season -- clearly a preemptive move that eventually could backfire on him if the school's board of trustees force him out before Saturday's home game against Nebraska --  I keep thinking about how other legendary coaches went out.


How Woody Hayes was fired at Ohio State after slugging a Clemson player during a bowl game.

How Bob Knight was done at Indiana after assaulting a student.

How Bobby Bowden was through at Florida State when boosters decided that the Seminoles weren't winning enough games.

They all pale in comparison. This has to be the most shocking end to the career of a sports icon since someone else muttered, "Say it ain't so" to another Joe.

It might also be the saddest.

All it would have taken was a phone call to Penn State police after hearing what former graduate assistant Mike McQueary told him what McQueary witnessed in the shower of the team's locker room back in 2002 -- the horrific scene of Paterno's former trusted aide, Jerry Sandusky, allegedly sexually assaulting a child. Nobody would have had to know that Paterno made the call and given his nature, Paterno would not have likely told anyone.

Like others before him trying to save whatever is left of their job security, Paterno seems to be in full-scale survival mode. Realizing how ignorant his comment was that he was "fooled" by Sandusky, Paterno released a statement today saying how "devastated" he was by Sandusky's actions and how he should have done more. But it is Paterno's inactions in dealing with the whole matter, treating the initial encounter as if Sandusky had fudged an expense report, that ultimately should seal his fate sooner than later.

How could Paterno be allowed to continue for another game, even as big as the one the Nittany Lions are scheduled to play Saturday at home against Nebraska?

Here's something to consider: if Paterno was about to celebrate his 45th birthday, rather than his 85th, would his role in this tragedy be considered a jailable offense? If Paterno wasn't on the verge of retirement after 46 years and 409 victories, about to pass Amos Alonzo Stagg for the most college football games ever coached don't you think he would already be out?

Let's be clear. I was never a big fan of the man until after I stopped writing about Penn State. Covering Paterno was not fun. He seemed to relish the idea of making it impossible for reporters to do their jobs by making access to players difficult. He could also be condescending and self-righteous, and I found it difficult to believe that I grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood that he did.

But as time went on college football became more and more corrupt,  I respected him for the way he didn't cave to the pressures that other coaches -- even the beloved Bowden -- did in looking the other way when it came to their players receiving gifts and money from boosters. I admired him even more as he stayed around past age 70, and then 80, kept coaching after a sideline collision left him with a broken leg. I understood how he didn't want to end up like Bear Bryant, retiring one day and being dead a couple of months later.

As sad it was when Bowden was forced out at Florida State a couple of years ago after boosters got tired of the Seminoles being overshadowed by the Florida Gators and becoming an afterthought even in the ACC, this is much sadder.  This now makes the top paragraph -- the lead as we call it -- on any story that will be written about Paterno from this day forward, including his obituary.

Forget being remembered as college football's all-time winningest Division I coach.

Paterno will be forever remembered for a phone call he didn't make and for an alleged crime that he allowed to continue.


-- Don Markus