STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) - Days after losing the job he held for nearly a half century, former Penn State coach Joe Paterno was diagnosed with a treatable form of lung cancer.
Scott Paterno, the Hall of Fame coach's son, said in a statement provided Friday 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 an abuse allegation against Sandusky than report it to his superiors.
"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 doctor's visit came the same weekend the school played its first game since the 1960s without Paterno leading the Nittany Lions - Penn State lost, 17-14 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.
Paterno was fired last week by school trustees in the aftermath of accusations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who is charged with sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years. Critics said Paterno should have done more to stop the abuse that a state grand jury detailed in a 23-page report - in particular one assault in 2002.
Paterno initially announced his retirement effective at the end of the season. But university trustees fired him about 12 hours later, the evening of Nov. 9.
Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley replaced Paterno on an interim basis. He broke the news 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."
Former Penn State quarterback Todd Blackledge, now an ESPN analyst, said Paterno never mentioned the illness when he visited his former coach Thursday in State College.
"In a week or so of many surprises this was another one," said Blackledge, who noted that Paterno was in good spirits when he saw him. A Penn State spokesman in Columbus said Friday night that as far as he knew, Paterno never smoked.
To say his health problems added Paterno's trouble 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."
The Hall of Famer's 409 career victories are a Division I record. In all, Paterno guided five teams to unbeaten, untied seasons, and won two national championships.
Sandusky was once expected to succeed Paterno but retired in 1999 not long after being told he wouldn't get the job.
Two university officials stepped down after they were charged with lying to a grand jury and failing to report the 2002 charge to police, an assault which allegedly took place in a shower in the football building.
The grand jury report said the attack was witnessed by Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant at the time. Now the receivers coach but on administrative leave, McQueary told the grand jury he went to his father first and then to Paterno, who in turn his boss but didn't go to the police.
When the state's top cop said Paterno failed to execute his moral responsibility by not contacting police, public outrage built and the trustees acted.