By Mark Viera (New York Times)
November 9, 2011
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Joe Paterno, who has more victories than any coach in major college football history, was fired by Penn State on Wednesday night in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal involving a prominent former assistant coach and the university's failure to act to halt further harm.
Graham B. Spanier, one of the longest-serving and highest-paid university presidents in the nation, who has helped raise the academic profile of Penn State during his tenure, was also removed by the Board of Trustees. When the announcement was made at a news conference that the 84-year-old Paterno would not coach another game, a gasp went up from the crowd of several hundred reporters, students and camera people who were present.
"We thought that because of the difficulties that engulfed our university, and they are grave, that it is necessary to make a change in the leadership to set a course for a new direction," said John Surma Jr., the vice chairman of the board.
The university's most senior officials were clearly seeking to halt the humiliating damage caused by the arrest last Saturday of the former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, a man who had been a key part of the football program but who prosecutors have said was a serial pedophile, one who was allowed to add victims over the years in part because the university he had served was either unable or unwilling to stop him.
Sandusky has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year span, and two top university officials — Tim Curley, the athletic director, and Gary Schultz, the senior vice president for finance and business — have been charged with perjury and failing to report to authorities what they knew of the allegations. Neither Paterno nor Spanier was charged in the case, though questions have been raised about if they did as much as they could to stop Sandusky.
Paterno had announced earlier Wednesday that he planned to retire at the end of the football season, but the statement was apparently released without the approval of the board.
"At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status," Paterno said in his statement. "They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can. This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."
Yet the board unanimously declined to let him finish out the season, his 46th as the head football coach and his 62nd over all at the school. The defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will take over as interim head coach. Paterno was told of his firing by telephone, according to Surma, who is the chief executive of U.S. Steel.
Rodney A. Erickson, the executive vice president and provost, will serve as acting president.
"This university is a large and complex institution, and although I have always acted honorably and in the best interest of the university, the buck stops here," Spanier said in a statement. "In this situation, I believe it is in the best interest of the university to give my successor a clear path to resolve the issues before us."
After the announcements about Spanier and Paterno, the news conference immediately took on a frenzied and somewhat vitriolic tenor. Angry questions were shouted at Surma, who responded to them while the other board members sat behind him and to his sides. One camera man repeatedly said, "Your campus is going to burn tonight."
The scandal, and the fallout from it, has indeed left Penn State's normally placid campus in a state of shock. Scores of students poured into the streets downtown in the immediate aftermath of the news conference. Many held up cellphones to take pictures and others blew vuvuzelas and air horns. A few climbed lampposts, tried to topple street signs and knocked over trash cans. Others set off firecrackers from the roofs of buildings.
"I just don't think it's right that JoePa's losing his job," Corey Davis, a 23-year-old senior studying international politics, said. "All the facts aren't out, we don't even know he's done anything wrong. Joe's the fall guy."
Kathryn Simpson, 20, a junior studying graphic design was weeping as she walked away from the university's administration building, Old Main, with a friend.
"This is devastating for us," she said. "I never in a million years thought I'd see this."
Many students have shown their support for Paterno with large rallies outside his home and at Old Main. After Paterno was fired, thousands of people gathered in front of the administration building, throwing objects and chanting "We want Joe!"
A grand jury said that Spanier, the university's president since 1995, was made aware of a report of an incident involving Sandusky and a boy in 2002, as was Paterno. Upon learning about a suspected 2002 assault by Sandusky of a young boy in the football building's showers, Paterno redirected the graduate assistant who witnessed the incident to the athletic director, rather than notifying the police. Paterno said the graduate assistant who reported the assault, Mike McQueary, said only that something disturbing had happened that was perhaps sexual in nature. McQueary testified that he saw Sandusky having anal sex with the boy.
The Department of Education announced Wednesday that it would investigate the university's handling of the abuse allegations.
Paterno has had a contentious relationship with some members of the Board of Trustees. In 2004, Spanier, Curley and select board members twice went to his house in efforts to get him to retire. Paterno declined, and the moment was looked at in the narrative of Paterno's career as an instance of his overcoming adversity. He revived the program, including victories in the Orange Bowl over Florida State in the 2005 season and the Outback Bowl over Tennessee in the 2006 season.
Spanier, 63, has helped to raise the academic prestige of Penn State during his tenure. A trained therapist with a Ph.D. in sociology, he was known among the students for playing the washboard with local bands and performing magic tricks at certain functions.
Yet it is Paterno who remains the public face of the university. He met with his team Wednesday in a gathering that players described as emotional. Stephon Morris, a junior cornerback, said Paterno was near tears when he told the team he was leaving.
"I've never seen Coach Paterno like that in my life," Morris said.
Still, Paterno's talk was not all about the turmoil. Morris said Paterno's main message was "Beat Nebraska," referring to Penn State's next opponent. When he left, his players gave him a standing ovation.
Nate Schweber contributed reporting.