The announcement was a surprise and so was the reaction from students. In less than 24 hours Wednesday, the winningest coach in major college football announced his retirement at the end of the season, then was abruptly fired by the board of trustees.
Students threw rocks and bottles and turned over a news van in reaction to the news that the 84-year-old coach had been fired. Police in riot gear used pepper-spray to break up the crowd.
Paterno met with angry students Wednesday night and tried to calm the crowd.
"Alright we still got things to do, I'm out of it maybe now," said Paterno. "That phone call put me out of it. But we will go from there. Hey, good luck everybody and thanks for coming."
"I don't understand how they can do this to Penn State in general," said one student. "'JoePa's been here so long. He's retiring this season, let him play his last game, it's that simple. Everyone here is for that."
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will serve as interim coach. He is Penn State's first coach other than Paterno in almost half a century.
"We're obviously in a very unprecedented situation," Bradley said. "I have to find a way to restore the confidence. It's with very mixed emotions and heavy hearts that we go through this."
Also ousted was Penn State President Graham Spanier, one of the longest-serving college presidents in the nation, as the university's board of trustees tried to limit the damage to the school's reputation from a child sex abuse scandal involving one of Paterno's former assistant coaches, Jerry Sandusky.
Sandusky is accused of sexually assaulting eight boys over a 15-year period. One of those alleged assaults occurred on the Penn State campus.
Assistant coach Mike McQueary, who was a graduate assistant at the time, witnessed one of the sexual assaults in 2002. He reported the incident to Paterno, who then went to the school's athletic director instead of going to police.
"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."
On Thursday, Bradley announced that McQueary would be coaching Saturday's home finale against Nebraska.
The scandal has claimed Penn State's storied coach, its president, its athletic director and a vice president.
While Paterno is not facing any criminal charges, the school's athletic director and a school vice president are charged with not reporting a crime.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.