Penn State Muzzles Joe Paterno as Opinion Turns Against Winningest Coach
Joe Paterno was told to shut up by the school he’s helped make a college football power. A day later, Paterno said he’s leaving as the record-setting coach at Penn State University and wished he had done more to stop a child-sex scandal involving one of his former assistants.
Paterno’s scheduled news conference yesterday to talk about this weekend’s game against the University of Nebraska was called off by Penn State officials less than an hour before its start. The school said in a news release that the move was “due to ongoing legal circumstances” surrounding the prosecution of Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator accused of molesting eight boys over a 15-year span.
Crisis experts and newspaper editorials were calling for the ouster of Paterno -- and, in some cases, the dismissal of university President Graham Spanier -- because they failed to act more forcefully on the Sandusky case. Today, Paterno obliged, saying he was leaving at the end of this season, his 46th in a career that so far has produced 409 wins, the most for a coach at college football’s top level.
“This is a tragedy,” Paterno, 84, said in a statement released today through an independent public relations firm. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”
The school’s Board of Trustees said last night in a statement that it was “outraged by the horrifying details” in the grand jury report about the Sandusky case and would appoint a special committee to investigate how to avoid a recurrence. The panel will be formally named on Nov. 11 at the board’s regular meeting, which Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said he would attend.
‘Not About Paterno’
“It’s not about Paterno or football, it is about making sure processes are in place and individuals are held accountable so Penn State’s name is never shamed again,” Paul Silvis, a member of Penn State’s board of trustees since October 2010, said in an e-mail.
Silvis, writing before Paterno’s retirement announcement, said there was “a lot of conjecture going on right now that has no basis in fact,” without giving specifics. He said the trustees had one key in sight.
“The most important thing we as a board can do is focus on the horrible acts allegedly committed by an individual that was in the public trust and make sure never ever happens again,” said Silvis, the founder and chief executive of Restek Corp., which manufactures chromatography products.
Paterno, 84, is being criticized for failing to contact authorities after being told of the case involving Sandusky.
Speaking briefly to reporters outside his home, Paterno said he was disappointed he wasn’t able to discuss concerns related to the scandal at his weekly media briefing. School officials said it wouldn’t be rescheduled.
“I know you guys have a lot of questions and I was hoping I was going to be able to answer them today, but we’ll try to do it soon,” Paterno said as he walked through a crowd of reporters and got in a car to go to practice. “We’ll do it as soon as we can.”
Some 300 students greeted Paterno with cheers when he returned to his house, according to the Daily Collegian, the Penn State campus newspaper.
“It’s hard for me to tell you how much this means to me,” Paterno was quoted by the Collegian as saying. “You guys live for the place, and I’ve lived for people like you guys and girls.”
Prayers for Victims
He also asked the students to remember the alleged victims in the case.
“The kids who were victims, whatever they want to say, I think we need to say a prayer for them,” Paterno said, according to the newspaper. “It’s a tough life when people do certain things to you.”
Ashley McCown, who specializes in crisis communications as president of Solomon McCown & Co., a Boston-based public relations and public affairs firm, said the Penn State situation is starting to resemble the sexual-abuse scandal involving priests that’s plagued the Catholic church.
“The key question for Coach Paterno, he may have met his legal obligation to report it to officials, but then there’s a moral obligation to want to know whether there is abuse and what’s going on,” McCown said in a telephone interview. “I think that may be the tipping point for him.”
Neither Paterno nor Spanier, Penn State’s president since 1995, did enough when informed of Sandusky’s alleged actions, according to an editorial in the Harrisburg Patriot News, the main newspaper in Pennsylvania’s capital city.
The newspaper called for Spanier, 63, to step aside and said Paterno should be let go when his contract expires after the season. While state prosecutors said Paterno isn’t a target of the official investigation, he’s the bespectacled face of a football program he took over in 1966 and coached to two national championships and five perfect seasons.
Paterno has had college football’s longest coaching tenure, surpassing the 41 consecutive seasons Amos Alonzo Stagg spent at the University of Chicago, and led the Nittany Lions to a record 36 appearances and 24 victories in postseason bowl games.
Frank Shorr, the director of Boston University’s Sports Institute, was among those calling for Paterno to resign.
“As someone who has been the face of the program and the school, it’s his duty to take responsibility for those he hired,” Shorr said in an e-mail. “What is especially disgraceful is that the university hid these allegations for almost 10 years. You can’t just accept the trophies and the rewards without also accepting the consequences.”
Sandusky, 67, of State College, Pennsylvania, was freed on $100,000 bail over the weekend after being charged with sexual assaults or advances on eight boys from 1994 to 2009, when he ran The Second Mile, a charitable organization for young people, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly said.
Penn State Athletic Director Timothy Curley and Gary Schultz, interim vice president for finance and business, were arraigned on charges that they failed to report alleged child sexual abuse by Sandusky and for lying to a grand jury about their knowledge of the allegation.
Schultz, 62, retired and Curley, 57, requested administrative leave so that he could defend himself.
Paterno has cooperated in the inquiry and said in a weekend statement that the allegations, if true, are “deeply troubling” and that “we were all fooled.” Sandusky was an assistant coach under Paterno from 1969 until his retirement at the end of the 1999 season, the architect of defenses that built the school’s reputation as “Linebacker U.”
Paterno, affectionately known as “JoePa,” was informed by a graduate assistant of a 2002 incident involving Sandusky and a boy in the Penn State locker room showers.
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.
McCown, the crisis management expert, said it would be the right move for Penn State to plan for Paterno’s exit.
“That’s a terrible way for a great coach to go out, but I think they need to remove anyone that had involvement in decision making, whether actively or otherwise, from the school and take a hard look at what happened,” McCown said. “They need to be decisive, they need to act swiftly and they need to be honest.”
Penn State has an 8-1 record this season, including a 5-0 mark in the Big Ten Conference. Ranked 12th nationally in the Bowl Championship Series rankings, the Nittany Lions host 19th- ranked Nebraska on Nov. 12.
Ray Caravan, a Penn State alumnus whose State College-based company, KB Offset Printing Inc., is an athletic department sponsor, said he remains among Paterno’s supporters. As the media gathered outside Paterno’s house yesterday, there was a large group of fans who chanted the coach’s name.
“Everybody feels awful about the underlying situation, but we are in a hurry-up society and everyone is rushing to conclusions before everybody has had their day in court,” Caravan, 58, said in a telephone interview. “While Paterno may be the single highest-profile individual on campus, the burden and responsibility of managing the business of the university should not fall on him.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at email@example.com