Paterno was a demanding and relentless coach, a meticulous note-taker and a stickler for detail.
For years, he devised the game plans and called plays for the offense and defense.
Penn State was a virtual autocracy under Paterno, who ruled without much resistance in a remote college town miles removed from the big-city media glare. His practices were closed and so, mostly, were his lips.
Ron Bracken of the Centre Daily Times, based in State College, once described Paterno as "cranky, tyrannical, dictatorial, blunt, scathing, charming, beguiling, entertaining and witty, all in the span of 30 minutes."
Playing football for Paterno wasn't always easy, and sometimes it took years for players to appreciate his motives and tactics. He did not forge close relationships.
Cappelletti, a running back who won the Heisman Trophy in 1973, told the Times in 1998, "I was co-captain, but I never remember approaching Joe one time to have a conversation with him."
Ham, the great Penn State linebacker and Steelers star, once said, "All of us disliked Paterno. It made us closer. He was very cold to his players."
Years later, however, Ham chose Paterno to be his presenter at his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Paterno used his celebrity, income and pulpit as football coach to help enhance the university's reputation. He and his wife, Sue, who met when Paterno was a Penn State assistant and she a student, donated more than $4 million to numerous Penn State projects.
"I do want to make an impact," he told the Times in 1998. "I'd hate to walk away from this after 50 years or so and look back and say, 'He had a couple good football teams.' I'd hope that apart from having some good football teams here, some people have benefited by being in the program, and were better people for having been a part of it."
Joseph Vincent Paterno, the son of second-generation Italian immigrants, was born Dec. 21, 1926, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Angelo, his father, and Florence, his mother, expected big things from the oldest of their four children. His father was a court clerk who earned his law degree at age 40.
"If we had a classroom spelling bee, I was expected to win it," Paterno said in the 1998 biography "No Ordinary Joe."
At Brooklyn Prep, Paterno was a scrappy, skinny and savvy quarterback and an inquisitive student. Summoned for military service after high school, he was training in New Jersey when World War II ended. After his 1946 discharge, he enrolled at Brown.
He played football and basketball in college and embraced academics, calling Brown an "intellectual feast." He was an accomplished defensive back — he still holds the Brown interception record with 14 — and a good enough quarterback to lead his team to an 8-1 record as a senior.
Engle, Brown's coach, left in 1950 to become coach at Penn State. He asked a young Paterno to join his staff.
Paterno postponed law school at Boston University to give coaching a try. He initially hated State College and told Engle he wouldn't return for a second season. "I'm going to go nuts in this hick town!" Paterno proclaimed.
Paterno advanced quickly on Engle's staff — "a brazen young man," one assistant said of him — taking on more and more responsibility. He used an offer from Yale in the early 1960s to leverage assurance he would succeed Engle. When Engle retired after the 1965 season, Paterno got his Penn State job. He was 38.
He staggered into head coaching by losing three of his first five games. His first team finished 5-5, and he opened the 1967 season with a loss to Navy.
"I wondered whether I really had it," he said of his abilities.