STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State football coach Joe Paterno will retire at the end of the season, his long and illustrious career brought down because he failed to do all he could about an allegation of child sex abuse against a former assistant.
"I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case. I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief," Paterno said in a statement released just after initial reports of his pending retirement.
Meanwhile, Penn State president Graham Spanier reportedly will be out of his job by the end of Wednesday. The Express Times of Lehigh Valley, citing a source close to the school's board of trustees, reports that Spanier either will resign or be voted out. Tom Ridge, the nation's first Homeland Security Secretary, has been mentioned as Spanier's possible successor.
A source told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi that it was Paterno's decision to retire and that he has had no contact with the board. It is not yet known if this is adequate action in the board's eyes. The board announced Tuesday night that a special committee will be appointed at the board's regular meeting Friday to investigate the case. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said he plans to attend.
"I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today," Paterno said in his statement.
"That's why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.
"This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more. My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination. And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this university."
Sources have told ESPN that Paterno is planning to coach the 12th-ranked Nittany Lions in Saturday's home game -- their last home game of this season -- against No. 19 Nebraska.
On Wednesday, Paterno talked to his team for about 10-15 minutes in an auditorium of the football facility on campus. Standing at a podium, he told players he was leaving and broke down in tears.
Players gave him a standing ovation when he walked out. Junior cornerback Stephon Morris said some players also were nearly in tears as Paterno spoke.
"I still can't believe it," Morris said. "I've never seen coach Paterno like that in my life." Asked what was the main message of Paterno's talk, Morris said: "Beat Nebraska."
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who worked as a graduate assistant under Paterno, was pained to see Paterno not able to leave on his own terms.
"I love coach Paterno, so am I emotional," Schiano said Wednesday after Rutgers finished practice for Saturday's game against Army. "People you love and care about, this is a hard thing for him, I'm sure. I know it is. So it hurts me when someone you love hurts."
Paterno has been besieged by criticism since Jerry Sandusky, his former defensive coordinator, was charged over the weekend with 40 criminal counts of molesting eight young boys between 1994 and 2009 through his charitable foundation for at-risk youths, The Second Mile. Sandusky is free on bail and has a Dec. 7 court hearing.
Athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz were charged Monday with failing to notify authorities after an eyewitness reported a 2002 assault. The two will seek to have the charges dismissed, their lawyers said. Curley requested to be placed on administrative leave so he could devote time to his defense, and Schultz will be going back into retirement, the school announced.
The U.S. Department of Education said Wednesday it would investigate whether Penn State violated federal law requiring the disclosure of criminal offenses on campus and warnings of crimes posing a threat to the community in its handling of the allegations. U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., requested the Education Department's involvement on Tuesday.
"If these allegations of sexual abuse are true then this is a horrible tragedy for those young boys. If it turns out that some people at the school knew of the abuse and did nothing or covered it up, that makes it even worse," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. "Schools and school officials have a legal and moral responsibility to protect children and young people from violence and abuse."
Mark C. Sherburne, Curley's acting replacement as AD, issued a statement Wednesday, saying the school is "devastated" by the allegations in the grand jury presentment against Sandusky.
"Our hearts go out to the children and their families," he said.
"Every day we are entrusted with the lives of young people, and we do not -- nor have we ever -- taken that trust lightly," Sherburne said. "We are outraged that a valued trust has been broken. We can promise you that we are doing everything in our power to restore that broken trust. Everyone within athletics -- coaches, administrators, staff and student-athletes -- are committed to this pledge."
Spanier is the head of the BCS Oversight Committee and would be removed from that role, too, BCS executive director Bill Hancock said, if he is ousted by Penn State as expected.
Paterno decided to retire at age 84, in his 46th season with the Nittany Lions. He has 409 victories, a record for major college football, and will pass Amos Alonzo Stagg for the most Division I games coached in history (both tied at 548) if he coaches against Nebraska.
But now, the grandfatherly coach known as "Joe Pa," who had painstakingly burnished a reputation for winning "the right way," leaves the only school he's ever coached in disgrace.
And, he might not be able to fully control his exit strategy; the school's board of trustees is still considering its options and could force Paterno to leave immediately.
Paterno hasn't been accused of legal wrongdoing. But he has been assailed, in what the state police commissioner called a lapse of "moral responsibility," for not doing more to stop Sandusky, whose attorney maintains his client is innocent.
Paterno's son, Scott, who has commented on his father's situation via Twitter, tweeted Wednesday, "Finally, thanks everyone for thoughts and prayers but please, pray for the victims."
Joe Paterno has been questioned over his apparent failure to follow up on a report of the 2002 incident, in which Sandusky allegedly sodomized a 10-year-old boy in the showers at the team's football complex. A witness, Mike McQueary, is receivers coach for the team but was a graduate assistant at the time.
Paterno told Curley, who has since stepped down and is charged with lying to the state grand jury investigating the case. Schultz and Spanier could follow Curley out the door.
But in the place known as Happy Valley, none held the same status as Paterno. And in the end, he could not withstand the backlash from a scandal that goes well beyond the everyday stories of corruption in college sports.
"If this is true we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families," Paterno said Sunday, after the news broke, in a prepared statement. "They are in our prayers."
The coach defended his decision to take the news to Curley. Paterno said it was obvious that McQueary was "distraught," but said the graduate student did not tell him about the "very specific actions" in the grand jury report.
After Paterno reported the incident to Curley, Sandusky was told to stay away from the school, but critics say the coach should have done more -- tried to identify and help the alleged victim, for example, or alerted authorities.
"I think it's the right thing," Penn State freshman Jake Schur said. "He didn't do what he should have. He's doing the right thing by stepping down to preserve the Penn State football program.
"It's sad to see it happen under such a bad situation but at the same time everyone was sort of preparing themselves for it."
Paterno's requirement that his players not just achieve success but adhere to a moral code, that they win with honor, transcended his sport. Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke basketball coach, said in June for an ESPN special on Paterno: "Values are never compromised. That's the bottom line."
As of 2011, Penn State has had 49 academic All-Americans -- 47 under Paterno -- the third-highest total among FBS institutions.
The team's graduation rates consistently ranked among the best in the Big Ten. In 2010, Penn State's 84 percent rate trailed only Northwestern's 95, according to the NCAA.
Penn State has bounced back from a mediocre 2010 season to go 8-1 this year, with its only loss to powerhouse Alabama. After Nebraska, Penn State plays at Ohio State and at Wisconsin (No. 18 BCS, No. 16 AP). It has a chance to play in the Big Ten championship game Dec. 3, with a bid in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio on the line.
Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, in a prepared statement, offered his best to Spanier, who formerly held the same position at Nebraska.
"Everything I know about Graham makes it difficult for me to believe he would ignore clear allegations of child abuse. I can only wish him the best as he works through these tragic events," Perlman said.
"This has obviously been a very emotional week for the Penn State community. We hope for the best for everyone, particularly the children alleged to have been mistreated or exploited," Perlman said. "The allegations of abuse, if true, represent personal failings. Penn State, our Big Ten colleague, is still a great university."
Perlman also sought to distance Nebraska from the scandal.
"Nebraska's participation in no way condones the conduct that has been alleged or makes a statement about the truth or falsity of the allegations," he said. "In the end the game is about the student-athletes from both institutions who have worked hard to be in a position to play football on Saturday. "
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said the conference will wait until Penn State's Board of Trustees makes personnel decisions, and until the unversity and grand jury investigations are complete, before commenting on the related issues.
"The entire situation is so sad. There is anger, confusion, and heartache on the part of many," Delany said in a statement. "First and foremost, our hearts go out to all those whose lives have been negatively impacted by this series of events, particularly the young victims and their families. "
Information from The Associated Press and ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad was used in this report.