Thursday, November 10, 2011

Joe Pa: Down, And Now Out

Last night, in the face of what may well be the biggest scandal and cover-up in college sports, the Penn State University board of directors acted swiftly and decisively and relieved both head coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier of their respective duties.  It’s a shocking and sad end to what was previously believed to be one of college football’s finest careers.

Paterno’s 46-season tenure, two national championships, five unbeaten teams and the fact that he is the winningest coach in major college football history (409) will likely be overshadowed by a child sex scandal and cover-up that will make Wood Hayes’ punching of a Clemson player pale in historical comparison.

“Right now, I’m not the football coach. And I’ve got to get used to that. After 61 years, I’ve got to get used to it,” the 84-year-old Paterno said, speaking outside his house. “Let me think it through.”

Paterno had earlier in the day announced his intention to retire at the end of the 2011-12 season.
In the end, it didn’t matter.

“I’m not sure I can tell you specifically,” board vice chair John Surma replied when asked at a packed news conference why Paterno had to be fired immediately. “In our view, we thought change now was necessary.”

Of course, the decision...the right one, and the only one the board of trustees could have made...triggered a reaction from some students that proved, once again, that college-age young adults don’t know crap about the real world. (What next: Occupy Happy Valley?)

As word of the firings spread, thousands of students flocked to the administration building, shouting, “We want Joe back!” and “One more game!” They then headed downtown to Beaver Avenue, where about 100 police wearing helmets and carrying pepper spray were on standby. Witnesses said some rocks and bottles were thrown, a lamppost was toppled and a news van was knocked over, its windows kicked out.

Someday when they are the mother or father of an innocent nine-year-old boy, each one of the rock throwers and van tippers will be embarrassed by their behavior last night. 

The decisions to oust Paterno and Spanier were unanimous, Surma said. 

Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will serve as interim coach, and the university scheduled a news conference with him for Thursday morning. Penn State hosts Nebraska on Saturday in the final home game of the season, a day usually set aside to honor seniors on the team.

Provost Rodney Erickson will be the interim school president.

The Penn State trustees had already said they would appoint a committee to investigate the “circumstances” that resulted in the indictment of Sandusky, and of Curley and Schultz. The committee will be appointed Friday at the board’s regular meeting, which Gov. Tom Corbett said he plans to attend, and will examine “what failures occurred and who is responsible and what measures are necessary to ensure” similar mistakes aren’t made in the future.

In Washington, the U.S. Department of Education said it has launched an investigation into whether Penn State failed to report incidents of sexual abuse on campus, as required by federal law.
“The Penn State board of trustees tonight decided it is in the best interest of the university to have a change in leadership to deal with the difficult issues that we are facing,” Surma said.

“The past several days have been absolutely terrible for the entire Penn State community. But the outrage that we feel is nothing compared to the physical and psychological suffering that allegedly took place.”

Sandusky, who announced his retirement from Penn State in June 1999, maintained his innocence through his lawyer. Curley has taken a leave of absence and Schultz has decided to step down. They also say they are innocent.

(Editor’s Note: We feel badly for Joe Paterno. As accomplished as he is at age 84, we would have preferred that he leave center stage in a better light.  We don’t doubt that at his core Joe Pa is a good man.  He has had a positive impact on thousands of people.  But, Paterno, like all of us at some point, reached a crossroads, and he, and his PSU associates, made a series of terrible decisions that negatively impacted a still unknown number of innocent kids.  Recognizing those “crossroads” moments are the key to leading a happy, successful and productive life.  We surmise that Paterno made good and moral decisions the overwhelming majority of the time, but, ultimately, his decision to prioritize his old friend over a ten-year-old rape victim, will forever tarnish what should have been a spotless career.  It makes us wonder what else did Penn State sweep under the rug during Joe Pa’s 46-year reign?)

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