(CNN) -- Legendary football coach Joe Paterno, who was ousted from Penn State University over an alleged child sex abuse scandal, told the Washington Post he felt inadequate to deal with the initial allegation of abuse.
Paterno, the all-time winningest football coach in NCAA Division I history, was fired in November amid the outcry over the handling of accusations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who faces more than 50 counts involving sexual acts with 10 boys since 1994. He has pleaded not guilty.
"I didn't know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was," Paterno told the Washington Post in an interview published Saturday. "So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn't work out that way."
The former coach, who is being treated for lung cancer, spoke with a raspy voice during the interview -- Paterno's first extensive sit-down since being fired.
A Penn State graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, told the grand jury late last year that he had seen Sandusky "with a boy in the shower and that it was severe sexual acts going on and that it was wrong and over the line." He said he had gone to Paterno with what he saw.
Paterno said he'd never been told the graphic details revealed in a grand jury report, but that he nevertheless reported the allegations to his boss, then-Athletic Director Tim Curley.
Curley and Gary Schultz, a former university vice president, have been charged with perjury and failure to report the abuse allegations, which law enforcement did not learn about for several years. They have pleaded not guilty.
"You know, he didn't want to get specific," Paterno said about McQueary. "And to be frank with you I don't know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it," he told the Washington Post.
"I called my superiors and I said, 'hey, we got a problem I think. Would you guys look into it? Because I didn't know, you know ... I had never had to deal with something like that. And I didn't feel adequate," Paterno said.
In response to the Washington Post interview, Sandusky's attorney released a statement in which he said the former defensive coordinator was "greatly dismayed by the knee jerk reaction of the Penn State Board of Trustees in summarily dismissing Coach Paterno and President (Graham) Spanier without any evidence being presented against them indicating they acted inappropriately or failed to take appropriate action."
Sandusky and his wife "both admire and respect" Paterno and are "extremely saddened by the events which have occurred," said attorney Joe Amendola.
There are "serious questions" about what McQueary reported, and Sandusky will continue to prepare for his trial, Amendola said.
Paterno declined to offer judgment on Sandusky in his Washington Post interview. He said "we got to wait and see what happens," as the case winds its way through the courts.
Some university students, former players for the Nittany Lions and others were angered by the removal of Paterno, who guided the team for 46 years. Student protesters overturned a news van and vandalized streets around the campus before police dispersed them.
"You know, I'm not as concerned about me," Paterno said. "What's happened to me has been great. I got five great kids. Seventeen great grandchildren. I've had a wonderful experience here at Penn State. I don't want to walk away from this thing bitter. I want to be helpful."
CNN's Jason Carroll contributed to this report.