By Mark Viera and Pete Thamel (New York Times)
November 8, 2011
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Joe Paterno's tenure as the coach of the Penn State football team will soon be over, perhaps within days or weeks, in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal that has implicated university officials, according to two people briefed on conversations among the university's top officials.
The Board of Trustees has yet to determine the precise timing of Mr. Paterno's exit, but it is clear that the man who has more victories than any other coach at college football's top level and who made Penn State a prestigious national brand will not coach another season.
Discussions about how to manage his departure have begun, according to the two people. The board is scheduled to meet on Friday, and Gov. Tom Corbett will attend.
Penn State is scheduled to play its last home contest of the season — its traditional senior day game — one day later, against Nebraska.
Mr. Paterno's day-to-day status with the program could be affected by the state attorney general's investigation into the sexual abuse allegations. In explaining his actions, Mr. Paterno has publicly said he was not told of the graphic nature of a suspected 2002 assault by Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant, of a young boy in the football building's showers. Mr. Paterno said the graduate assistant who reported the assault, Mike McQueary, said only that something disturbing had happened that was perhaps sexual in nature.
But on Tuesday, a person with knowledge of Mr. McQueary's version of events called Mr. Paterno's claim into question. The person said Mr. McQueary had told those in authority the explicit details of what he saw, including in his face-to-face meeting with Mr. Paterno the day after the incident.
Mr. Paterno's son Scott and his lawyer, Joshua D. Lock, did not respond to interview requests Tuesday. Mr. Paterno was to have held a news conference Tuesday, but the university canceled it less than an hour before it was scheduled to begin. Leaving his house on his way to the football team's practice, he told reporters: "I know you guys have a lot of questions. I was hoping I could answer them today. We'll try to do it as soon as we can."
In his 46th season as the Penn State head coach, Mr. Paterno, 84, has had an extraordinary run of success: one that produced tens of millions of dollars and two national football championships for the university and established him as a revered leader in sports, but one that will end with a stunning and humiliating final chapter.
Mr. Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator under Mr. Paterno, has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys across a 15-year period. After leaving the football program following the 1999 season, Mr. Sandusky worked with Second Mile, a foundation he established to help needy children.
Mr. Paterno has been widely criticized for failing to involve the police when he learned of the 2002 incident involving the young boy. Additionally, two top university officials — Gary Schultz, the senior vice president for finance and business, and Tim Curley, the athletic director — were charged with perjury and failure to report to the authorities what they knew of the allegations, as required by state law.
Since Mr. Sandusky's arrest Saturday, officials at Penn State — notably its president, Graham B. Spanier, and Mr. Paterno — have come under withering criticism for a failure to act adequately after learning, at different points over the years, that Mr. Sandusky might have been abusing children. Newspapers have called for their resignations; prosecutors have suggested their inaction led to more children being harmed by Mr. Sandusky; and students and faculty at the university have expressed a mix of disgust and confusion, and a hope that much of what prosecutors have charged is not true.
Mr. Paterno has not been charged in the matter, but his failure to report to the authorities what he knew about the 2002 incident has become a flashpoint, stirring anger on the board and an outpouring of public criticism about his handling of the matter.
On Monday, law-enforcement officials said that Mr. Paterno had met his legal obligation in alerting his superiors at the university when he learned of the 2002 allegation against Mr. Sandusky. But they suggested he might well have failed a moral test for what to do when confronted with such a disturbing allegation involving a child not even in his teens. No one at the university alerted the police or pursued the matter to determine the well-being of the child involved. The identity of that child remains unknown, according to Linda Kelly, Pennsylvania's attorney general.
In recent days, Mr. Paterno has lost the support of many board members, according to the two people who have been briefed on their conversations. That development illustrates a decisive shift in the power structure at the university. In 2004, for instance, Mr. Paterno brushed off a request by the university president that he step down.
He still has the support of some fans. Late Tuesday, hundreds gathered outside Mr. Paterno's home, chanting Paterno's name and "We are Penn State!"
"Joe's been here half a century," said Pam Dorian, 22, a senior from West Chester, Pa. "I feel like if there's anyone we can trust, it's him."
Addressing the crowd alongside family members, Mr. Paterno said: "I've lived for this place. I've lived for people like you guys and girls. It's hard for me to say how much this means.
"As you know, the kids that were the victims, I think we ought to say a prayer for them."
What separated Mr. Paterno from many of his coaching peers was that he had great success with few questions about how he ran the program. Penn State's high graduation rates and education-first ideals, known as Paterno's Grand Experiment, became as synonymous with the program as its plain uniforms and dominating defenses.
The reputations of the coach and the university have changed abruptly this week in light of the allegations.
On Monday, just hours after Ms. Kelly described at a news conference how university officials were suspected of failing to alert the authorities to multiple allegations of sexual abuse on campus, the university distributed a memo to members of the news media confirming that Mr. Paterno planned to hold his usual Tuesday news conference and emphasizing that he would talk only about the coming game against Nebraska.
Now it is unclear whether Mr. Paterno will still be the coach for that game.
Nate Schweber contributed reporting.