At a preliminary hearing for the school officials, McQueary testified that he had seen Sandusky attacking the child with his hands around the boy's waist but said he wasn't 100 percent sure it was intercourse. McQueary described Paterno as shocked and saddened and said the coach told him he had "done the right thing" by reporting the encounter.
Paterno waited a day before alerting school officials and never went to the police.
"I didn't know which way to go ... and rather than get in there and make a mistake," Paterno said in the Post interview.
"You know, (McQueary) didn't want to get specific," Paterno said. "And to be frank with you I don't know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it."
When the scandal erupted in November, Paterno said he would retire following the 2011 season. He also said he was "absolutely devastated" by the abuse case.
"This is a tragedy," he said. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."
But the university trustees fired Paterno, effective immediately. Graham Spanier, one of the longest-serving university presidents in the nation, also was fired.
Paterno was notified by phone, not in person, a decision that board vice chairman John Surma later regretted, according to Lanny Davis, an attorney retained by the trustees as an adviser.
The university handed the football team to one of Paterno's assistants, Tom Bradley, who said Paterno "will go down in history as one of the greatest men, who maybe most of you know as a great football coach."
"As the last 61 years have shown, Joe made an incredible impact," said the statement from the family. "That impact has been felt and appreciated by our family in the form of thousands of letters and well wishes along with countless acts of kindness from people whose lives he touched. It is evident also in the thousands of successful student athletes who have gone on to multiply that impact as they spread out across the country."
New Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien, hired earlier this month, offered his condolences.
"The Penn State Football program is one of college football's iconic programs because it was led by an icon in the coaching profession in Joe Paterno," O'Brien said in a statement. "There are no words to express my respect for him as a man and as a coach. To be following in his footsteps at Penn State is an honor. Our families, our football program, our university and all of college football have suffered a great loss, and we will be eternally grateful for Coach Paterno's immeasurable contributions."
Paterno believed success was not measured entirely on the field. From his idealistic early days, he had implemented what he called a "grand experiment" — to graduate more players while maintaining success on the field.
He was a frequent speaker on ethics in sports, a conscience for a world often infiltrated by scandal.
The team consistently ranked among the best in the Big Ten for graduating players. As of 2011, it had 49 academic All-Americans, the third-highest among schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision. All but two played under Paterno.
"He teaches us about really just growing up and being a man," former linebacker Paul Posluszny, now with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, once said. "Besides the football, he's preparing us to be good men in life."
Paterno certainly had detractors. One former Penn State professor called his high-minded words on academics a farce, and a former administrator said players often got special treatment. His coaching style often was considered too conservative. Some thought he held on to his job too long, and a move to push him out in 2004 failed.
But the critics were in the minority, and his program was never cited for major NCAA violations. The child sex abuse scandal, however, did prompt separate investigations by the U.S. Department of Education and the NCAA into the school's handling.