Joe Paterno, Penn State's iconic collegiate gridiron coach whose legacy was tarnished by a child sex scandal involving a former assistant, was reported to be seriously ill with complications from lung cancer on Saturday.

"Over the last few days Joe Paterno has experienced further health complications," a family spokesman said, according to a report on

"His doctors have now characterized his status as serious. His family will have no comment on the situation and asks that their privacy be respected during this difficult time."

Paterno revealed he had been diagnosed with cancer on November 18, nine days after he was sacked as head coach of the Penn State University football team.

Complications from his cancer treatments had sent the 85-year-old coach to hospital in December.

Paterno won more games than any other top-level US collegiate coach in history and the fame of Penn State's gridiron team helped enlarge the university, its reputation and academic offerings.

He was sacked for failing to take tougher action against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky after being told about an incident in a locker room shower in which the coach was allegedly molesting a 10-year-old boy.

Sandusky, on the Penn State staff from 1969 through 1999, is facing trial after being accused of more than 50 counts of molesting 10 boys over an 11-year period. He has denied the charges.

"I'm sick about it" if Sandusky is proven guilty, Paterno said in an interview with the Washington Post earlier this month.