STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The day was always coming. The old coach was 84, and each new season brought questions whether it would be his last. No one, though, expected it to happen quite like this.
The Penn State board of trustees voted unanimously to fire football coach Joe Paterno on Wednesday night amid the growing furor over how the school handled sex abuse allegations against an assistant coach. Penn State President Graham Spanier also was ousted.
The massive shake-up came at the end of a day that started with Paterno announcing he planned to retire at the end of his 46th season, saying he wanted to finish with "dignity and determination." But the board decided he had to go immediately.
"The university is much larger than its athletic teams," board vice chair John Surma said during a packed news conference.
Paterno and Spanier were informed of the decision by telephone.
"We were unable to find a way to do that in person without causing further distraction," Surma said.
Paterno released the following statement Wednesday:
"I am disappointed with the Board of Trustees' decision, but I have to accept it.
"A tragedy occurred, and we all have to have patience to let the legal process proceed. I appreciate the outpouring of support but want to emphasize that everyone should remain calm and please respect the university, its property and all that we value."
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will serve as interim coach while Rodney Erickson will be the interim school president.
Earlier in the day a tearful Paterno, who won more games than any coach in major college football history, stood in an auditorium in the Penn State complex and told disbelieving players that he planned to retire at the end of the season.
Not because he was too old or couldn't win anymore, but because of the child sex abuse scandal involving longtime assistant coach and onetime heir-apparent, Jerry Sandusky.
"Success With Honor" was ending in disgrace, and tears flowed from behind the thick eyeglasses.
"In all the clips I've seen of him, I've never seen him break down and cry," quarterback Paul Jones said. "And he was crying the whole time today."
Cornerback Stephon Morris said some players also were nearly in tears themselves.
"I still can't believe it. I've never seen coach Paterno like that in my life," Morris said.
Paterno said in a statement he was "absolutely devastated" by the case, in which Sandusky has been charged with molesting eight boys over 15 years, with some of the alleged abuse taking place at the Penn State football complex.
"This is a tragedy," Paterno said. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."
Paterno has come under harsh criticism for not taking more action in 2002 after then-graduate assistant and current assistant coach Mike McQueary came to him and reported seeing Sandusky in the Penn State showers with a 10-year-old boy. Paterno notified the athletic director, Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz.
Paterno is not a target of the criminal investigation, although Curley and Schultz have been charged with failing to report the incident to authorities.
Paterno's ouster came three days before Penn State hosts Nebraska in its final home game of the season, a day usually set aside to honor seniors on the team.