Shortly before dawn in State College, Pa., a work crew installed chain-link fences to barricade access to Porter Road outside Beaver Stadium and covered the fence with a blue tarp.
The work crew then removed the 7-foot, 900-pound bronze statue by forklift and placed it into the lower level of the stadium. Erickson released his highly sensitive decision to the public at 7 a.m. ET Sunday.
As workers moved the statues, 100 to 150 students watched, some chanting, "We are Penn State."
The decision came 10 days after a scathing report by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh found that Paterno, with three other top Penn State administrators, had concealed allegations of child sexual abuse made against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The Freeh report concluded their motive was to shield the university and its football program from negative publicity.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the NCAA hit Penn State with a $60 million sanction, a four-year football postseason ban and a vacation of all wins dating to 1998.
Paterno's career record will reflect these vacated records, the NCAA said.
Penn State must also reduce 10 initial and 20 total scholarships each year for a four-year period.
The Paterno family issued a statement only hours later saying the statue's removal "does not serve the victims of Jerry Sandusky's horrible crimes or help heal the Penn State community."
"We believe the only way to help the victims is to uncover the full truth," said the family, which vowed its own investigation following the release of the Freeh report. The family called the report "the equivalent of an indictment -- a charging document written by a prosecutor -- and an incomplete and unofficial one at that."
A Paterno family spokesman told ESPN.com that Penn State has not been in communication with them about the statue's removal.
Paterno's widow, Sue, and two of the Paternos' children visited the statue Friday as students and fans lined up to get their pictures taken with the landmark. The statue was built in 2001 in honor of Paterno's record-setting 324th Division I coaching victory and his "contributions to the university."
Erickson's decision to remove the statue but keep the Paterno name on the library appears to be the product of compromise. Keeping his name on the library does not entirely disconnect Penn State from Paterno's contributions -- from the millions of dollars he donated to his 61-year coaching career to the university's academic life.
Erickson said in recent days he had heard "many differing opinions" about the fate of the Paterno statue and the best way to "memorialize such a revered figure."
"I now believe that, contrary to is original intention, Coach Paterno's statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our university and beyond," Erickson said in his 592-word statement. "For that reason, I have decided that it is in the best interest of our university and public safety to remove the statue and store it in a secure location."
If the statue of Paterno, his right index finger raised in a No. 1 salute, had remained in its current location, Erickson said he believed it would "be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse."
Erickson's announcement came exactly six months after Paterno died.
Erickson acknowledged that his decision is bound to be an unpopular one in central Pennsylvania.
"I fully realize that my decision will not be popular in some Penn State circles, but I am certain it is the right and principled decision," he said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told Washington reporters that President Barack Obama believed "it was the right decision" for the university to remove the monument.
Erickson did not say where the statue would be kept. He also did not say whether it would be later placed in a public place for viewing or placed into storage. Trustees over the past two days who have spoken with Erickson said two possible locations have been discussed: the Penn State sports museum and the library, which still bears the Paterno family name.
Erickson's decision comes at an especially sensitive time for the university. Trustees and administrators are the subject of an NCAA investigation, and several trustees have said that if the statue remained it could weigh as a negative symbol in the NCAA's discussions on a punishment for the football program.
Last week, trustees told each other in private conversations that the Paterno statue had become a negative symbol for the university that inevitably would have to be removed.
In many of those conversations, trustees and university officials said they hoped that if the statue would be removed, it would send a positive message to the NCAA that Penn State was "moving forward" past its symbolic embrace of Paterno. But within one hour of the statue being removed Sunday morning the NCAA released its statement, at 9 a.m. ET. Some critics had also called for the Paterno family name to be removed from the library. But Erickson said no. "The library remains a tribute to Joe and Sue Paterno's commitment to Penn State's student body and academic success," Erickson said, "and it highlights the positive impacts Coach Paterno had on the university. Thus I feel strongly that the library's name should remain unchanged." The issue of the appropriateness of the Paterno name on the library has received far less attention as the future of the statue, which was paid for by a group of about 35 alumni and their spouses in the late 1990s. The issue quickly divided the country and the Penn State community. Commentators argued about the symbolism of the statue, from college coaching legends like Bobby Bowden to iconic stars of the football team like Franco Harris. For three days last week, a small plane pulled a banner over State College that read, "Take the statue down or we will." Several nights last week, a handful of students guarded the statue from vandals. On some days, a campus auxiliary police officer guarded the statue. The bronze statue of Paterno has been a place for supporters to rally and pray since the coach's death on Jan. 22. One late night after Paterno died, one of his sons, Jay Paterno, visited the statue and had his photograph taken with fans. Supporters have placed flowers and signs at the statue's foot, most supportive of Paterno. On Friday, Joe Paterno's widow, Sue Paterno, visited the statue with her two daughters, accompanied by Harris and trustee Anthony Lubrano. The Paternos took pictures of the statue. Late last week, the trustees and Erickson decided whether to remove statue should be an administration decision. As recently as Friday, some trustees expressed fury that the statue might be taken down. "People want to kick Joe's bones," a longtime trustee said Friday. "It's outrageous." What made the decision especially difficult for university officials was the Paternos' philanthropy to Penn State. He and his wife, Sue, donated more than $4.5 million to the university to help with the library's construction, and they have paid for scholarships. The Freeh report found that Paterno, ousted longtime university president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz worked to keep the Sandusky child sexual abuse allegations from becoming public across a period of 14 years. Paterno and Spanier were fired in November by the Board of Trustees. Erickson said the decision to remove the statute but keep the Paterno name on the library is one that "both recognizes the many contributions that Joe Paterno made to the academic life of our university while taking seriously the conclusions of the Freeh Report and the national issue of child sexual abuse. Today, as every day, our hearts go out to the victims." Many of those watching the removal stared in disbelief and at least one woman wept, while others expressed anger at the decision. "I think it was an act of cowardice on the part of the university," Mary Trometter of Williamsport, who wore a shirt bearing Paterno's image. She said she felt betrayed by university officials, saying they promised openness but said nothing about the decision until just before the removal work began. Dozens later gathered to watch and listen to the sound of sawing, scraping and shoveling as white-helmeted workers behind tarpaulins removed Paterno's name and various plaques from the walls behind where the statue had stood. Shortly before midday, all that appeared to remain was the bare concrete and stone. Much of the work was hidden by blue tarps strung across temporary chain link fences while barricades kept observers on the other side of the street. Few watching said they understood the decision and feared what kind of punishment the NCAA would pile on. Derek Leonard, 31, a university construction project coordinator who grew up in the area, said the construction workers on the project told him it was like watching a funeral when the statue was lowered onto the truck and then rolled away. He didn't completely agree with the decision but worried more that the NCAA would shut down the football program. "It's going to kill our town," he said. Richard Hill, 67, West Chester, a Penn State alumnus, said, "If you punish the football program or Joe Paterno -- they're tied together -- this town is going to suffer. The revenue does an awful lot to keep this town viable and lively." Colby Walk, 40, who grew up in the Penn State area, wondered why an NCAA punishment was necessary, given the criminal charges, officials fired or forced out, Paterno's death and now the statue's removal. "It's kind like we already have the death penalty," he said, referring to the worry that the NCAA would shut down the Penn State football program. Diane Byerly, who traveled from Harrisburg in the morning when she heard the statue was coming down, wondered if the university was trying to make a symbolic gesture in hopes of lessening the NCAA's penalty. "Maybe it was an olive branch," said Byerly, 63, a onetime season-ticket holder whose father and son went to Penn State. "Maybe they'll go softer on us." The statue's sculptor, Angelo Di Maria, said he was upset to hear it had been taken down. "It's like a whole part of me is coming down. It's just an incredibly emotional process," he said. "When things quiet down, if they do quiet down, I hope they don't remove it permanently or destroy it," Di Maria said. "His legacy should not be completely obliterated and thrown out. ... He was a good man. It wasn't that he was an evil person. He made a mistake."