STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Once considered Joe Paterno's heir apparent, Jerry Sandusky instead became the man who brought him down.
Paterno was ousted Wednesday night by Penn State's board of trustees – even though he'd said earlier in the day he would retire at the end of his 46th season – fired because he didn't do enough to stop a child sex abuse-scandal centered around Sandusky. The architect of Linebacker U and Paterno's most trusted assistant for most of three decades, Sandusky is charged with molesting eight boys between 1994 and 2009.
"Completely floored. I would've never imagined this," said Buffalo Bills safety Bryan Scott, who played at Penn State from 1999-2002 and roomed with Sandusky's son, Jon, on road trips his freshman year.
"He was a stand-up guy the way he interacted with the team," Scott said, "and even around the kids."
Indeed, there was a time when Sandusky, who through his lawyer denies the charges against him, was revered in these parts.
A defensive end at Penn State from 1963-66, he returned in 1969 and spent the next three decades on Paterno's staff, the last 22 as defensive coordinator. Paterno and his old-school values gave Penn State its identity, from the plain blue-and-white jerseys without names to the impressive graduation rate and squeaky-clean reputation.
But it was Sandusky's defensive wizardry that gave the Nittany Lions their bite.
Paterno likely would not have won national titles from 1982 and 1986 without Sandusky. Vinny Testaverde probably still has nightmares about the Nittany Lions after Sandusky's defense picked him off five times and forced two fumbles in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, a 14-10 win that gave Penn State its second national title in five years.
Of the 43 first-team All-Americans Penn State had from 1977, when Sandusky took control of the defense, to 1999, when he retired, 18 were defensive players. He churned out one NFL-caliber linebacker after another: Jack Ham, Matt Millen, Shane Conlan, LaVar Arrington, just to name a few.
"I owed my success in college to Jer's unique ability to identify our strengths and alter his game plans to fit what we all were good at," Arrington said Monday in the blog he writes for the Washington Post. "... His ability to teach, in my opinion, was amazing and unmatched."
But an entire stadium doesn't give an assistant coach a standing ovation, like Sandusky got at his final home before he retired in 1999, regardless of how great his schemes are. Not even here.
No, the affection and admiration for Sandusky was equally rooted in what appeared to be his selfless devotion to troubled kids.
Sandusky's father, Art, had run the Brownson House Recreation Center in his hometown of Washington, Pa., spending so much time with the neighborhood youth that he eventually moved his wife and a young Jerry into an apartment in the building. His father's dedication left an impression, Sandusky said, and he started The Second Mile charity in 1977.
The foundation provided education and life skills to almost 100,000 at-risk kids each year, and had the support of prominent names in Pennsylvania athletics. Numerous Nittany Lions players and coaches pitched in to help, and its honorary board of directors included not just Paterno, but golfing great Arnold Palmer and retired Pittsburgh Steelers star Franco Harris.
Sandusky appeared to take a personal interest in the lives of dozens of children, bringing them to Penn State practices and games and introducing them to the players who were idolized in this small community. The door to his house was always open, to say nothing of an extra place at the dinner table.
Of the six kids Sandusky and his wife, Dottie, adopted, three were foster children who'd been in their care.
"You talk about the kind of great human beings there are as far as caring for people," then-defensive line coach Joe Sarra said when Sandusky retired. "They don't come much finer than that man."
Those words have a different echo now.
"When I was there, coach Paterno was a great man and Coach Sandusky the same," said Anthony Adams, who played defensive tackle at Penn State from 1999-02 and is now with the Chicago Bears. "It was a complete shock to me."
Sandusky had long been expected to succeed Paterno, and he reportedly turned down jobs at Marshall, Temple and Maryland in hopes the aging coach would soon retire. But Paterno came to feel that Sandusky was spending too much of his time on The Second Mile, and he told his assistant around May 1999 that Sandusky would not be the next head coach at Penn State.
"Joe had said, `You can't do both, you can't have two masters,'" Paterno's son, Scott, recalled earlier this week.
Sandusky cited his desire to devote more time to The Second Mile when he took early retirement following the 1999 season. But even though he was not particularly close with Paterno, he remained a familiar sight around the Penn State football complex. He was given an office in the East Area Locker building, across the street from the football building, as part of his retirement package, and would bring Second Mile kids around the football facilities.
"There were times where I was around his Second Mile kids, and to me what it seemed was a great program," Scott said.
But the truth, the Pennsylvania attorney general said, is far more sordid.
Sandusky was a sexual predator, according to the indictment against him, using the foundation and his Penn State connections to prey on young boys. And, in two instances, the alleged assaults took place on Penn State property.
A janitor said he saw a boy about 11 to 13 pinned against a wall while Sandusky performed oral sex on him in fall 2000, the grand jury said. Two years later, then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary went to Paterno and reported seeing a naked Sandusky in the Penn State showers, sodomizing a boy of about 10.
"To everyone who continues to ask me about the report yes i have it but i wont read it," Arrington said on Twitter. "Its like seeing a family member in a casket."
Paterno notified the athletic director, Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz, about what McQueary told him in 2002. Both have since been charged with failing to report the incident to the authorities.
Paterno was not accused of any legal wrongdoing. But he has been criticized for not doing more to stop Sandusky, with the state police commissioner calling it a lapse in "moral responsibility." And Paterno himself said Wednesday he wished he'd done more, calling it "one of the great sorrows of my life."
"To me, Joe Paterno is still a great man and he will always be a legend. Unfortunately his legacy will be tainted, obviously, by this," said Paul Posluszny, a two-time All-American linebacker at Penn State who now plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars. "That's unfortunate, but that's the reality of the situation."
___AP Sports Writers Genaro C. Armas in State College, Pa., Dan Gelston in Philadelphia, Mark Long in Jacksonville, Fla., John Wawrow in Buffalo, N.Y., and Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.