By Dave Warner

(Reuters) - The estate of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has received more than $5.5 million from the university where he coached for 46 years before being fired after a child sex abuse scandal involving an assistant coach.

Included in the package was a $3 million "career bonus" that was due to Paterno at retirement, which had been planned for the end of the 2011 season. Instead, he was fired with three games left to play in the regular season as the scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky roiled the campus.

"As the board of trustees has explained, it decided on November 9, 2011 (the date of his firing) to honor the terms of Coach Paterno's contract as if he had retired at the end of the 2011 season," the university said in a statement released on Thursday.

"That contract recognized Coach Paterno's decades-long contributions to our football program and to the entire university," the statement said.

At the time of his firing, many alumni and students were furious over what they viewed as the university's disrespectful treatment of Paterno, who won a major-college record 409 games and two national championships at Penn State.

Paterno was fired in November after the sex abuse scandal broke. Trustees said he showed a failure of leadership by not doing more when he learned of accusations against Sandusky. Paterno informed university officials but not police.

Sandusky, 68, is charged with 52 counts of abuse stemming from accusations he molested 10 boys between 1994 and 2008. He has maintained his innocence.

Paterno died of lung cancer in January at age 85.

The Paterno family law firm, King & Spalding, disputed any sense that the payment was a "settlement," saying, "This exercise was a straight forward payment of monies indisputably owed to the Paterno estate."

(Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Peter Cooney)