By Joseph Santoliquito
STATE COLLEGE (CBS) — The word spread quickly, and to some Penn State football players it came as a shock, while to others it wasn’t that much of a jolt at all. Penn State’s football team found out late Wednesday night that coaching icon Joe Paterno was fired, along with the university’s president, Graham Spanier, by the Penn State Board of Trustees Wednesday in a unanimous vote.
The dismissals come in the wake of the sexual-abuse charges pending against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley was named interim coach by the Penn State Board of Trustees.
The bystanders in this swirling mess has been the Penn State players themselves. The players found out about Paterno’s firing by watching TV coverage, that no one from Penn State’s administration told them directly.
“I won’t say I was angry when I heard what happened to Joe, but no one wanted to see it happen,” said Penn State wide receiver Curtis Drake, a former West Catholic star who is a red-shirt sophomore. “No one wanted to see Joe go out this way. But since the beginning of the season, we’ve preached team, team, team, and that comes from Joe. We, as a group I can say, feel bad. But we have to continue focusing on our season and the games we have left.
“I’ll admit it is kind of inconceivable what happened. That’s because everyone knows how influential Joe is in the community.
“We thought he’d last out the season, but everyone knew Joe wasn’t going to be back next year. Even before he told us yesterday morning about retiring. What’s been hard on us is it’s not about football anymore, and we had to prepare for whatever was going to happen. We understand how serious this situation is. We can understand why they made the decision they made.”
Penn State, ranked No. 12 nationally, will be hosting Nebraska, rated No. 19, this Saturday at Beaver Stadium at 12-noon. The Nebraska regent says that he has concerns about his team’s safety at Penn State and wants assurances from Penn State that a security plan will be in place.
As for the Nittany Lion players, “The one thing, we don’t feel any pressure at all,” Drake said. “This has nothing to do with us. We’re kind of stuck in the middle of a storm. We’ll be alright though; we can’t wait for the game to come Saturday. We’re coming off a bye week and we can’t wait to get back into it. You can say we have a little more motivation right now. All eyes will be on us and we know it.”
Eric Shrive, an offensive guard at Penn State out of West Scranton, stated Paterno’s firing did catch him off guard. “I was shocked by what happened, because of all the good things Coach Paterno has done, and I was shocked how this whole thing was handled. We have a game to play on Saturday and that’s our focus. We have the alleged victims in our prayers.
“But I have to say I was absolutely angry over hearing Coach Paterno was fired. Coach Paterno was the one who gave me the chance to come here and get a great education. He’s the one who opened the door for me to come here. You can say we have his back, we’ll definitely have his back on Saturday. That’s because Coach Paterno has always had our backs.”
Another player, who asked that his name not be used, stated that the whole team is “stronger and more bonded” than ever because of what has transpired this week. But to some underclassmen, they have concerns about the future of the program, where it’s headed and where they may be headed.
The head of the NCAA spoke today about looking into the Penn State program after the legal process plays out, and any possible NCAA sanction could scare away any big-name coach out there, like former Florida coach Urban Meyer, whose name has been broached as a possible successor to Paterno, as well as Penn State alum and current Miami coach Al Golden, who inherited a difficult situation at Miami when he took over (Will he want to take over another program that faces possible NCAA sanctions?).
As for the players, they’ve been almost the last to know anything, and right now some are concerned.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do, but what has happened here makes you think about going somewhere else, and it’s why I prefer you don’t use my name,” one player said. “We’re pretty sure the whole staff is gone after this season. It sucks, because this is a great staff. Coach Bradley, Coach [Ron] Vanderlinden, Coach [Larry] Johnson, Coach [Galen] Hall, Coach [Dick] Anderson, it’s a great staff. They got sucked up into this mess. It is a mess. What gets me is everyone knew. They tried to keep it quiet and they got caught. If they told the truth in the first place, none of this would have happened. And I’m 20 years old saying that.”
Drake said he and his teammates are sad over Paterno’s situation, “but we can’t change anything,” he said. “Coach Paterno would want us to play Saturday. He made Penn State football. We want to win. We want to do this for Joe.”