Legendary Penn State University head football coach Joe Paterno announced Wednesday that he will retire at the end of the 2011 football season, ending a long and illustrious career, though marred by recent developments involving a former assistant coach.

In the wake of sexual abuse allegations against former long-time defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, Paterno will step down after 46 seasons, and 61 years in total with the University, with only three games remaining on the Penn State schedule.

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, said Paterno, in a statement.

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. That's why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season.

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.

The 84-year-old has been a beloved figure at Penn State, affectionately known as JoePa and Saint Joe, since he took over the school's football program in 1966.

He led the Nittany Lions to a 409-136-3 career record, and two national championships -- one in 1982 and one in 1986. Paterno had a bowl record of 24-12-1. In 1986, Paterno became the first college football coach to be awarded Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year.

Even after the Sandusky allegations came to light, students continued to show their support for Paterno. On Tuesday night, Paterno spontaneously spoke in front of a group of students, who chanted: We love you, Joe and Let Joe stay.

To the collection of students, Paterno said: It's hard for me to tell you how much this means to me. I've lived for this place, and I've lived for people like you guys and girls, and I'm just so happy to see that you could feel so strongly about us and about your school. The kids that were victims or whatever they want to say, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them. Tough life, when people do certain things to you. Anyway, you've been great. Everything's great, all right.

For most of his career, Paterno was considered among the most respected coaches in college football history. His program was highly regarded for promoting morality and prestige, and for developing players to work hard on and off the field.

Paterno could be imperious, wrote ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel. He certainly could be holier-than-thou. But behind all of that posturing, Paterno stood for the ideals of virtue and honor as expressed through the silly, violent and completely enthralling game of college football.

Things took an ugly turn for Paterno on Nov. 5, when the Sandusky scandal surfaced. Paterno's relatively spotless image became blemished, as many wondered how such abuse could take place on his watch. In a grand jury report, Sandusky was charged with the sexual abuse of eight minors, and that number may grow as additional alleged victims come forward.

The allegations of abuse span from 1994 to 2008. Sandusky purportedly sexually abused boys as young as 8-years-old.

Paterno became the subject of scrutiny amid reports that he knew of a particular incident that occurred in 2002.

According to court documents, graduate student Mike McQueary walked in on Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in the football building's showers. McQueary then went to Paterno to report the episode. Instead of calling the authorities, Paterno turned the information over to the athletic director.

Paterno himself denies knowledge of the explicitness and degree of Sandusky's actions, though he has admitted that he knew Sandusky engaged in inappropriate behavior with minors.

It is unclear whether the Penn State administration will allow Paterno to stay on for the duration of the season or if they will ask him to make an earlier exit. The Nittany Lions are currently ranked No. 12 in the nation, with an 8-1 record.

The scandal has affected many top school officials and has caused a maelstrom of media controversy.

Penn State's sturdy standing has been severely damaged by many admirers of the program. This was once a university honored for its sparkling reputation. It was Paterno who helped cultivate this reputation, and now he is taking much of the blame for the current controversy.

Many former players and alumni have already come to Paterno's aid, as the face of their school has received so much negative attention in recent days.

Rich Mauti, a former Nittany Lion wide receiver, has sent more than 800 emails to former players to stand on the sideline and show support for Paterno in the last home game of his career on Saturday when Penn State host No. 19 Nebraska.