Penn State fired football coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham B. Spanier four days after former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged with sexually assaulting boys in the school’s athletic complex.
Tom Bradley will immediately take over for Paterno while a successor is sought and school provost Rodney A. Erickson will replace Spanier on an interim basis, John P. Surma, vice chairman of the board of trustees and chief executive officer of U.S. Steel Corp., said at a news conference last night.
“What we’re doing is what we believe in our best judgment is in the best long-term interests of the university,” said Surma, 57, who is acting as spokesman for the board. “The university is much larger than its athletic teams.”
Paterno, 84, said yesterday he’d retire at the end of the season, when his contract was due to expire. The coach, known as “JoePa”, and Spanier, 63, were criticized for failing to contact police after being told of a case involving the 67-year-old Sandusky, who was charged on Nov. 5 with sexually assaulting eight boys from 1994 to 2009.
In 2002, a graduate assistant saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the Penn State locker room showers and reported it to Paterno, according to Sandusky’s indictment. Paterno said he wasn’t aware of specific details of the attack, later included in a grand jury report, and referred the matter to university officials because Sandusky was no longer a member of the coaching staff.
“I’m disappointed with the board of trustees’ decision, but I have to accept it,” Paterno said in a statement last night. “A tragedy occurred and we all have to have patience to let the legal process proceed.”
Police in riot gear dispersed thousands of students who gathered in downtown State College, Pennsylvania, to protest Paterno’s dismissal last night. A television van was overturned during the disturbances, which ended about 1:30 a.m. local time.
“He shouldn’t have to go out this way,” Penn State freshman James Choi, 18, said in an interview. “They should let him leave with his dignity.”
Paterno leaves after a career that has spanned a record 46 years and 409 wins. He said yesterday he wished he “had done more” to deal with the scandal.
Spanier was president of the university for 16 years. The former chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a sociologist and a marriage and family therapist.
Pressure intensified on Spanier after he issued a statement on Nov. 6 giving his “unconditional support” to Timothy Curley, Penn State’s 57-year-old athletic director, and Gary Schultz, vice president for finance and business, after they were charged with failing to report an allegation related to Sandusky and then lying to a grand jury about their knowledge of the allegation.
Curley since took a leave of absence and Schultz, 62, retired. Both deny wrongdoing.
“The buck stops here,” Spanier said in a statement last night. “It’s in the best interests of the university to give my successor a clear path for resolving the issues before us.”
Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly said Nov. 7 that Paterno, 84, isn’t a target of her office’s investigation and that he had cooperated in the inquiry. She wouldn’t comment when asked if Spanier was a target of the probe.
“The failure of top university officials to act on reports of Sandusky’s alleged sexual misconduct, even after it was reported to them in graphic detail by an eyewitness, allowed a predator to walk free for years -- continuing to target new victims,” Kelly said in a statement. “Equally disturbing is the lack of action and apparent lack of concern among those same officials, and others who received information about this case, who either avoided asking difficult questions or chose to look the other way.”
The U.S. Department of Education said last night it will investigate whether the school breached a law requiring officials to report the number of criminal offenses committed on campus each year.
“If these allegations of sexual abuse are true, then this is a horrible tragedy for those young boys,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement on the department’s website. “If it turns out that some people at the school knew of the abuse and did nothing or covered it up, that makes it even worse.”
Paterno, who was making $1.02 million a year according to a filing by the university, said before his ouster that the scandal is “one of the great sorrows of my life.”
Paterno said he was shocked and deeply saddened by the charges against Sandusky, who was an assistant coach from 1969 until his retirement at the end of the 1999 season.
Sandusky started a charity for boys in 1999 called The Second Mile. By early 2009, Kelly had begun an investigation when a Clinton County, Pennsylvania, teen told authorities that Sandusky inappropriately touched him several times over a four-year period. In September 2010, Sandusky retired from day-to-day involvement with the charity. On Nov. 5 he was released on $100,000 bail after being arraigned on 40 criminal counts.
Sandusky’s attorney, Joe Amendola, has said his client maintains his innocence.
“The fact that someone we thought we knew might have harmed young people to this extent is deeply troubling,” Paterno said in a Nov. 6 statement. “If this is true, we were all fooled.”
Paterno was the bespectacled face of a football program that he led to two national championships and the most wins in major-college history. He came to State College, a town of 42,000 people located 190 miles west of Philadelphia, in 1950 as an assistant to former coach Rip Engle and succeeded him in 1966.
Paterno’s tenure at Penn State is the longest in the sport’s coaching history, surpassing the 41 consecutive seasons Amos Alonzo Stagg spent at the University of Chicago.
Paterno led the Nittany Lions to five perfect seasons and set records with 36 bowl appearances and 24 bowl victories.
While some other prominent football programs ran afoul of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules, Paterno largely avoided scandal and was regarded as a throwback to an era before fame and big money infiltrated college sports. He was known for making sure his players studied and attended classes, and he chose to stay put in State College, turning down several offers to coach in the National Football League.
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Paterno and his wife, Suzanne, a Penn State graduate, have donated more than $4 million to the university over the years to endow faculty positions and scholarships, and build an interfaith spiritual center and a sports museum.
Paterno’s dark-rimmed glasses, rolled-up pant legs and white athletic socks became as much a symbol of Penn State football as the team’s white helmets and navy-blue plain jerseys, which don’t have player names on the back.
Paterno, a New York City native, became the coach with the most wins in major-college football in 2001, when he broke Paul “Bear” Bryant’s record of 323.
Florida State’s Bobby Bowden passed Paterno in 2003 and the two coaches were neck-and-neck until Bowden retired after the 2009 season, with 388 wins in 34 seasons. Paterno won his 409th game on Oct. 29 over Illinois, breaking the record for top-division victories he shared with Eddie Robinson of Grambling.
The Nittany Lions posted undefeated records in 1968, 1969 and 1973, but didn’t win their first national championship until the 1982 season. Penn State won its second national title in 1986 with a 12-0 record and went undefeated for the fifth time under Paterno in 1994. The school has an 8-1 record this season, including a 5-0 mark in the Big Ten Conference.
Bradley will take charge of the Nittany Lions for their last three regular-season games of the season and a possible postseason bowl game. The team hosts Nebraska this weekend.