By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS)— In the end, the pressure proved to be insurmountable—even for a legendary icon. In the end, Joe Paterno, for decades a paragon of ethics and thought to be Penn State’s untouchable man, was brought down after 46 seasons as Penn State’s football coach in the aftermath of the sexual-abuse charges pending against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Paterno, along with Penn State president Graham Spanier, were fired by the Penn State Board of Trustees shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday night in a unanimous vote by the trustee members.
Assistant coach Tom Bradley will be the interim head coach of the Nittany Lions the remainder of the season. This Saturday, Penn State is scheduled to play No. 19 Nebraska in the last home game of the season—and a day honoring the seniors.
Just a week after becoming the winningest coach in Division I history, and a winner of national championships in 1982 and 1986, Paterno will regrettably be synonymous with the ignominious departures of Ohio State’s Woody Hayes, and more recently, Ohio State’s Jim Tressel’s ouster before this season. Paterno, so diligent and conscience about keeping Penn State “clean,” may forever be tainted by this tragic drama that’s ripped apart the very Penn State program Paterno built.
“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 that,” Paterno said. Then in a later statement, Paterno said: “I am disappointed with the Board of Trustees’ decision, but I have to accept it. A tragedy occurred, and we all have to have patience to let the legal process proceed. I appreciate the outpouring of support but want to emphasize that everyone should remain calm and please respect the university, its property and all that we value.
“I have been incredibly blessed to spend my entire career working with people I love. I am grateful beyond words to all the coaches, players and staff who have been a part of this program. And to all of our fans and supporters, my family and I will forever be in your debt.”
The 84-year-old Paterno was told over the phone that he was no longer the Nittany Lions’ coach.
Board of Trustees’ Vice Chairman John Surma announced: “The past several days have been absolutely terrible for the entire Penn State community. But the outrage we feel is nothing in comparison compared to the physical and psychological suffering that allegedly took place. The Penn State Board of Trustees decided tonight that it’s in the best interests of the university to have a change in leadership to deal with the difficult issues that we are facing. The Board of Trustees and Graham Spanier have decided that effective immediately, Dr. Spanier is no longer president of the university. In addition, Joe Paterno is no longer the head football coach, effective immediately.”
The announcement stirred shouts of protest from the students gathered at the press conference that were quickly silenced … allowing Surma to continue, “These decisions were made after careful deliberations and in the best interests of the university as a whole. Penn State has always strived for honesty, integrity and the highest moral standards in all of our activities. We promise you that we are committed to restoring the public trust to our university.”
Surma answered a number of questions from the media: “We thought, because of the difficulties that have engulfed our university, and they are great, we thought it was necessary for us to make a change in the leadership and set a course in a new direction. I’m not about to set that to specific reasons, issues, that’s the Boards collective judgment and that’s what we did, and there’s nothing more than that.”
As a reaction to the decision, outbursts among Penn State students broke out early Thursday morning, with chants of “One more game, one more game” throughout the small-town college campus in support of Paterno. Outrage spilled over into rage in the streets of State College. A news van was turned over. Riot police sprayed mace to disburse students, while some media had rocks thrown at them.
Bradley and the Penn State coaching staff inherits a mess. The Nittany Lions are ranked No. 12.
“The players are angry, really angry, we thought we’d get Coach Paterno until at least the rest of the season,” a source close to the program said. “The worst thing about this is the stain on Paterno and the program, and all because the school never really handled this properly from the beginning. This is really embarrassing. Spanier deserved to be fired. Paterno, I don’t know about. Do you think this team is ready to play a football game on Saturday in amidst of all of this?”