Penn State Board Fires Iconic Coach

November 10, 2011       Mark Hrywna      

The Penn State University Board of Trustees cleaned house Wednesday, firing football coach Joe Paterno – effective immediately, only hours after he announced he would retire at season’s end – and accepted the resignation of university President Graham Spanier.

In response to an unparalleled child sex abuse scandal, the board’s unanimous decision, announced after 10 p.m., was met with chaos in and around the State College Pa., campus, with reports of riot police trying to disperse protestors. At least one television news van was turned over amid other vandalism.

Becoming the winningest coach in major college football history only weeks ago, Paterno led Penn State football since 1966, building it not only into a perennial winner but an iconic brand that generated millions of dollars for the university. But he’s come under fire from some corners that he did not report allegations of child abuse to the property authorities. A graduate assistant in 2002 told him he saw former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulting a child in the locker room showers.

Sandusky, Paterno’s defensive coordinator until 1999, was arrested days ago on charges of alleged sexual abuse of eight boys over 15 years. Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz, who oversaw the university police force, are charged with perjury and failing to report suspected child abuse. The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office on Saturday released an explosive 23-page grand jury report detailing the allegations.

Spanier had been at Penn State for more than 25 years, the last 16 as president.

“I was stunned and outraged to learn that any predatory act might have occurred in a university facility or by someone associated with the university,” the statement read in part. “Penn State and its Board of Trustees are in the throes of dealing with and recovering from this crisis, and there is wisdom in a transition in leadership so that there are no distractions in allowing the university to move forward.

“This university is a large and complex institution, and although I have always acted honorably and in the best interests of the university, the buck stops here. In this situation, I believe it is in the best interests of the university to give my successor a clear path for resolving the issues before us.”

In a statement announcing his retirement earlier Wednesday Paterno said he was “absolutely devastated by the developments in this case,” which he called “one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.

“My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination. And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this university,” he said.

The Penn State Alumni Association’s Facebook page was active with varying comments, some calling for the resignation of the Board of Trustees. The board’s decision to fire Paterno immediately “was both reckless and irresponsible,” wrote Ken Hinkle. “Their decision endangered the safety and welfare of thousands of students, university employees, police, and residents of State College by underestimating the love and respect of a man that has helped build this university from its foundation,” he wrote, calling for the board to “take responsibility for their negligence and resign.”

More than a few suggested they will no longer donate to the school and urged others to do the same. Jessica Earl posted: “Not another penny from this 1989 grad.”

“How can you simply try to erase 61 years of service with a few allegations. Shame on the Board of Trustees. Good luck trying to get money from me in the future,” wrote in part, Nesha Christian-Hendrickson. June Eilers called on alumni to “close your wallets until Joe is given the respect he deserves with a big thank you celebration covered by all media. Michelle Emch Johns posted that she’ll be canceling her membership in the alumni association.

Others pointed to the heinous acts alleged in the grand jury report, placing some blame on the football coach for not reporting it to the proper authorities.

Paterno reported the 2002 incident to Curley, his immediate supervisor, who later interviewed the grad assistant – identified by news outlets as current PSU coach Mike McQueary. According to the grand jury report, McQueary testified last December that he told Schultz and Curley that he’d witnessed a sexual assault while Curley told the jury that the assistant reported it as “inappropriate conduct” or activity that made him “uncomfortable.” Curley specifically denied that the assistant report a sexual assault or “anything of a sexual nature whatsoever and termed the conduct as merely ‘horsing around.’”

Twice, Curley answered no to a specific question about whether the assistant had reported “sexual conduct of any kind” by Sandusky. Curley testified that he’d informed the assistant that Sandusky was advised that he was prohibited from bringing youth onto campus and the information had been given to the director of The Second Mile, a charity Sandusky started. The athletic director said he also advised Spanier of the information he received from the grad assistant and the steps he’d taken as a result, but did not report the incident to university police or any other police agency, according to the report.

The Second Mile has declined comment, citing the ongoing police investigation. CEO Jack Raykovitz testified that he was informed by Curley in 2002 that someone ha deported being uncomfortable seeing Sandusky in the locker room shower with a youth. The lone statement from the charity indicates Curley told the charity that the incident was reviewed internally, with no finding of wrongdoing, and that it was never made aware of the “serious allegations” in the grand jury report.

In 2008, Second Mile barred Sandusky from activities with children after he informed them of allegations – which he denied – made against him by an adolescent. Sandusky officially retired from the charity in September 2010 and the Attorney General’s office contacted the charity early this year.

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