NEW YORK — Jerry Sandusky told NBC that he is innocent of the child sex abuse charges that have rocked Penn State and cost football coach Joe Paterno his job, though the former defensive coordinator acknowledged he “horsed around” and touched kids.

In a telephone interview, aired Monday night on NBC News’ “Rock Center,” Sandusky responded, “No,” when Bob Costas asked if he was a pedophile.

“I am innocent of those charges,” the 67-year-old Sandusky said. “… I could say that I have done some of those things. I have horsed around with kids. I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them and I have touched their legs without intent of sexual contact.”

Sandusky, once considered Paterno’s heir apparent, is charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year span, with several of the alleged assaults occurring on Penn State property.

Athletic director Tim Curley and Penn State vice president Gary Schultz are charged with perjury, and Paterno and President Graham Spanier were fired for not doing enough to follow up on allegations that Sandusky had assaulted a young boy in the showers of the campus football complex in 2002.

The interview with Costas was Sandusky’s first public comment on the charges. He had previously maintained his innocence through his attorney.

The Associated Press has made several efforts to reach Sandusky by phone and through his attorney, but messages haven’t been returned.

A spokesman for Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly declined to comment on the interview, citing the active investigation.

Asked if there was anything he did do wrong, Sandusky said, “I shouldn’t have showered with those kids.”

When Sandusky retired in 1999, at just 55, he cited his desire to devote more time to The Second Mile, a charity he founded to help at-risk kids. According to a grand jury report, however, Sandusky used The Second Mile and his Penn State connections to prey on young boys.

Though he was not particularly close with Paterno, he remained a familiar sight around the Penn State football complex. He was given an office in the East Area Locker building, across the street from the football building, as part of his retirement package, and would bring Second Mile kids around the football facilities.

Wide receivers coach Mike McQueary, then a graduate assistant, told the grand jury he saw Sandusky sodomizing a boy of about 10 in a shower at the Nittany Lions’ practice center in March 2002.

McQueary did not go to police but instead told Paterno, Curley and Schultz, although it is not clear how detailed his description was. Schultz, in turn, notified Spanier.

Paterno is not the target of any legal investigation, but he has conceded he should have done more.

He and Spanier were fired because trustees felt they had not done enough after the 2002 incident.