STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Joe Paterno's ultra-successful 46-year run as Penn State's football coach is on tenuous footing in the wake of the child sex-abuse scandal involving his former assistant coach that has rocked the university community.

Amid a New York Times report Tuesday that university officials were preparing for Paterno's exit, the 84-year-old still attended an afternoon practice and later spoke as if he expected to coach against Nebraska Saturday while addressing a group of supportive students on his front lawn.

Yet the immediate status of the winningest coach in major college football history is anything but certain after a whirlwind day in which Paterno was barred by the university from speaking to reporters during his regularly scheduled weekly news conference.

At 12:30 p.m. Paterno was to take questions from reporters for the first time since his former assistant, Jerry Sandusky, was arrested Saturday on charges that he sexually abused eight young boys during a span of 15 years, including some years he was on Paterno's staff.

But the news conference was abruptly canceled less than an hour before it was set to begin, with nearly 200 media members already on campus. In a statement, the school cited "the ongoing legal circumstances surrounding the recent allegations and charges."

The decision to cancel Paterno's news conference was made by university president Graham Spanier, according to Paterno's son, Scott. The coach's son attempted to schedule an off-campus news conference for his father to address the scandal, but he said they decided not to follow through yet.

"No one has asked Joe to step down," Scott Paterno said.

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As Joe Paterno left his house en route to practice, he said, "I know you guys have a lot of questions. I was hoping I could answer them today. We'll try to do it as soon as we can."

Tuesday night the school's board of trustees announced it will appoint a special committee to probe the scandal.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly cleared Paterno of legal wrongdoing on Monday, saying he did what was legally expected of him when he told superiors about a 2002 incident that graduate assistant Mike McQueary reported to him.

According to the grand jury probe, McQueary walked into the football showers as Sandusky -- then a retired coach -- was engaging in sexual behavior with a young boy. McQueary testified that he brought the news to Paterno the next day; Paterno testified that he told athletic director Tim Curley.

But Pennsylvania police commissioner Frank Noonan has questioned whether Paterno -- as well as others -- had a moral obligation to report the incident to police.

That specifically bothered 20-year-old junior Evan Ponter, who was among a handful of students taking part in an on-campus protest yesterday.

"I always looked at Joe Paterno as this moral coach," he said. "He had this success with honor and all these great qualities that I always wanted to embody myself, and it's sad that he would only do the bare minimum."

But many students showed their support for the coach, gathering on his front lawn awaiting his return from practice. When a white SUV carrying Paterno pulled up to the house, hundreds of students gave him a Beatles-like reception.

Paterno addressed the crowd before entering the house, and when the students continued to call for him he spoke to them twice more -- from his living room windows and then later on the front stoop. He said he appreciated their support and asked them to "say a prayer for the victims and their families."


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Key figures

Jerry Sandusky

Former Penn State defensive coordinator was arrested on Saturday and charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period. His lawyer says Sandusky is not guilty. In 1977, Sandusky formed "The Second Mile," a charity established to help troubled boys. Sandusky, 67, played football at Penn State and coached there for 32 years -- 23 as defensive coordinator.

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Joe Paterno

The revered Penn State coach has been at the helm for 46 years, winning two national championships in the 1980s and amassing the most victories (409) in Division I history. Authorities have said that Paterno, 84, is not a target of the investigation, but the state police commissioner has chastised him and other school officials for not doing enough to try to stop the suspected abuse.

Tim Curley

The Penn State athletic director since 1993 is accused of perjury and failing to report suspected child abuse. He is charged with lying to a state grand jury investigating the complaints. Curley, 57, requested a leave of absence to deal with the charges. Curley's lawyer says he is not guilty.

Gary Schultz

The Penn State senior vice president for finance and business is accused of perjury and failing to report suspected child abuse. Schultz, who stepped down on Monday, is charged with lying to a state grand jury. A lawyer for Schultz, 62, said his client is not guilty.

Graham Spanier

The 63-year-old Spanier has been the school's president since 1995. In 2004, Spanier asked Paterno to step down after the team had its fourth losing season in five years. Paterno refused.

Mike McQueary

McQueary testified to a grand jury that he saw Sandusky abusing a boy in the Penn State locker room shower in 2002. According to the grand jury, McQueary reported the incident to Paterno the next day (Saturday). Paterno told the grand jury that he then reported the incident to Curley on Sunday. About 10 days later, McQueary was called in to see Curley and Schultz and told them what he had seen. Curley and Schultz assured McQueary they would look into it, the grand jury said. Curley contacted McQueary several weeks later, saying that Sandusky's keys to the locker room had been confiscated and that the incident had been reported to The Second Mile. University police never questioned McQueary, and there was no other inquiry until he was called before the grand jury in December 2010. McQueary is now an assistant coach for the football team.