WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Seventy-four days after being fired by Penn State legendary college football coach Joe Paterno died at the age of 85. One Wilmington man played for Paterno during the 1960s and had an emotional reaction to today's news.
"It's heartbreaking," said Joe Yermal, a former Penn State football player. "They will miss him, I will miss him."
Yermal was a practice player for the Penn State Nittany Lions back in 1963.
Joe Paterno, affectionately know as "JoePa", was an assistant coach at the time Yermal was on the squad.
Yermal recalls the intensity of major college football's all-time winningest coach.
"Joe was never, what would the expression be, a warm and fuzzy guy," said Yermal. "That wasn't him. He'd bark and growl and what have you, and at the same time, after he'd done that, he'd check and make sure things were okay with your family."
Paterno died after his battle with lung cancer.
During the 46 years he roamed the sidelines in Happy Valley he won 409 games and two national championships. Many will remember Paterno not for those accomplishments, but for the child sex abuse scandal that led to his dismissal.
"This problem that he encountered regarding the Sandusky allegations and what have you are obviously going to be a part of it, but it's not going to be the main chapter. I think it will be a footnote," said Yermal. "I think over the years people will look back and recognize how much the guy gave to the university, how important the success of the school was to him."
Yermal suspects that Paterno's removal from the field may have ultimately played a part in his death.
More than a coach, Yermal says he will remember Paterno as a teacher and an innovator.
"I will look back, as I do with my Dad, at him and I won't cry when I think about him, but I will smile," said Yermal