Joe Paterno was diagnosed with a treatable form of lung cancer the same weekend Penn State's football team played its first game without the Hall of Fame coach in nearly a half century.
His son, Scott Paterno, said Friday in a statement to The Associated Press that his father's doctors are optimistic the 84-year-old Paterno will make a full recovery.
The news came shortly after Penn State said the NCAA would look into the school's handling of a child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Paterno was fired by the board of trustees Nov. 9 for failing to do more than simply report to his superiors an abuse allegation against Sandusky.
"Last weekend, my father was diagnosed with a treatable form of lung cancer during a follow-up visit for a bronchial illness," Scott Paterno said in the brief statement. The medical exam came the same weekend the school played its first game since the 1960s without Paterno leading the Nittany Lions - a 17-14 loss to Nebraska.
"As everyone can appreciate, this is a deeply personal matter for my parents, and we simply ask that his privacy be respected as he proceeds with treatment," Scott Paterno said.
Earlier Friday, The Citizens Voice of Wilkes-Barre reported that Paterno had been seen Wednesday visiting the Mount Nittany Medical Center and was treated for an undisclosed ailment and released.
Sandusky is charged with sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years - charges he denies. Critics say Paterno should have done more to stop his former assistant, specifically when he was told about an assault in 2002. But the longtime coach is not a target of the ongoing investigation of Sandusky.
Paterno initially announced his retirement effective at the end of the season, saying that the scandal was "one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." The trustees fired him anyway, about 12 hours later.
Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley replaced Paterno on an interim basis. He broke the news about Paterno's cancer to the Nittany Lions after the team arrived in Columbus, Ohio, for Saturday's game against Ohio State.
"I told them sometimes words pale at a time like this. I felt they should hear it from us, exactly what it was, that we were told that it was a treatable lung cancer," Bradley said. "It's just one of those things. It's a tough time for the players."
To say health problems added to Paterno's troubles during a rough period doesn't begin to capture the last two weeks. The lurid Sandusky scandal has tarnished the reputation of a coach and a football program that once prided itself on the slogan "Success with Honor."
Paterno's 409 career victories over a 46-year career are a Division I record. In all, Paterno guided five teams to unbeaten or untied seasons and won two national championships.
Besides the criminal case against Sandusky, the university announced last week it was conducting its own probe - and that was before the NCAA said Friday that college sports' governing body would also start an inquiry.
NCAA president Mark Emmert said in the letter to Penn State president Rod Erickson that the probe will look at "Penn State's exercise of institutional control over its intercollegiate athletics programs."
Prior to his firing, Paterno pressed on with coaching in spite of a number of recent ailments. He often walked into news conferences fighting back sniffles, and Paterno often passed it off as nothing more than an annoying cold.
He was said to be in good health this preseason - getting back to his routine of walking around town - before a receiver accidentally blindsided him during preseason drills in August, leaving him with an injured right shoulder and pelvis.
Lung cancer kills 1.4 million people around the world each year. In the United States, 221,130 new cases and 156,940 deaths are expected this year. The disease is typically diagnosed in older people. About 2 out of 3 people diagnosed with lung cancer are over age 65.