Brooklyn-Born Paterno Leaves Penn State Under a Cloud

The Grand Experiment ended early for Joe Paterno, legendary Penn State football coach, as he was fired on Wednesday evening. The man who holds the record for the largest number of wins in college football came from humble beginnings in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood.

Paterno was born on December 21, 1926 to Angelo and Florence Paterno. He served as an usher at Ebbets Field, a major league baseball park in Flatbush. In 1941, Paterno began studying at the now defunct Brooklyn Preparatory School — a Catholic Jesuit School for boys.

There his athletic abilities became well known; he played basketball and became football team’s quarterback. In previous interviews, Paterno said that during his senior year his team was the best in Catholic school competitions in New York. They only lost one game – to St. Cecilia’s High from Englewood, N.J., which was then coached by a young Vince Lombardi.  

Paterno did not only excel in sports, but in academics. He took four years of math and Latin. In his spare time he translated Virgil from Latin. He graduated in 1945.

Paterno went on to attend Brown University, where he played quarterback and defensive back. After graduating in 1950, he was supposed to go to law school, but instead followed his football coach from Brown to Penn State and took a coaching job.

“I had no intention to coach when I got out of Brown,” Paterno said in a 2007 interview before being inducted into the Hall of Fame. “Come to this hick town? From Brooklyn?”

But he did stay and coach, eventually becoming head coach in 1966. Over his career, he won 409 games, more than any other coach in Division I.

He also devised the “Grand Experiment,” which emphasized athletics and academics as equals.

Paterno was fired by the Penn State Board of Trustees on Wednesday, after one of his former assistant coaches, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years. Paterno has come under scrutiny over failing to notify authorities when he was informed of one of the incidents.

Graham Spanier, Penn State president, was also fired.