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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno to retire at season’s end

84-year-old's legacy tarnished in wake of aide's child sex abuse scandal; calls situation "tragic"

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— Penn State football coach Joe Paterno will retire at the end of the season, his long and illustrious career brought down because he failed to do all he could about an allegation of child sex abuse against a former assistant.

"This is a tragedy," Paterno said in a statement Wednesday. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

Paterno has been besieged by criticism since former defensive coordinator and one-time heir apparent Jerry Sandusky was charged over the weekend with molesting eight young boys between 1994 and 2009. Athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with failing to notify authorities after an eyewitness reported a 2002 assault.

Paterno decided to retire at age 84, in his 46th season with the Nittany Lions. He won 409 games, a record for major college football, but now, the grandfatherly coach known as "Joe Pa," who had painstakingly burnished a reputation for winning "the right way," leaves the only school he's ever coached in disgrace.

"I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case," he said. "I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief."

But Paterno might not be able to fully control his exit strategy; the school's board of trustees is still considering its options and could force Paterno to leave immediately.

"I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today," Paterno said.

"That's why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can."

Paterno hasn't been accused of legal wrongdoing. But he has been assailed, in what the state police commissioner called a lapse of "moral responsibility," for not doing more to stop Sandusky, whose attorney maintains his client is innocent.

Paterno has been questioned for his apparent failure to follow up on a report of the 2002 incident, in which Sandusky allegedly sodomized a 10-year-old boy in the showers at the team's football complex. A witness, Mike McQueary, is currently receivers coach for the team but was a graduate assistant at the time.

Paterno told the athletic director, Tim Curley, who has since stepped down and has charged with lying to the state grand jury investigating the case. The Penn State vice president has also been charged, and the university president could follow.

But in the place known as Happy Valley, none held the same status as Paterno. And in the end, he could not withstand the backlash from a scandal that goes well beyond the everyday stories of corruption in college sports.

The coach initially defended his decision to take the abuse report to his athletic director and not prosecutors. Paterno said it was obvious the graduate student was "distraught," but said he wasn't told about the "very specific actions" in the grand jury report.

After Paterno reported the incident to Curley, Sandusky was told to stay away from the school, but critics say the coach should have done more — tried to identify and help the victim, for example, or alerted authorities.

"I think it's the right thing," Penn State freshman Jake Schur said. "He didn't do what he should have. He's doing the right thing by stepping down to preserve the Penn State football program.

"It's sad to see it happen under such a bad situation but at the same time everyone was sort of preparing themselves for it."

Paterno's requirement that his players not just achieve success but adhere to a moral code, that they win with honor, transcended his sport. Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke basketball coach, said in June for an ESPN special on Paterno: "Values are never compromised. That's the bottom line."

His sudden departure leaves his fans and detractors wondering who exactly was the real "Joe Pa."

Was he a gentle once-in-a-lifetime leader with a knack for molding champions?

Or was he simply another gridiron pragmatist, a detached football CEO, his sense of right and wrong diluted by decades of coddling from "yes" men paid to make his problems disappear.

It will be a debate for years, and history will decide whether the enduring image will be that of Paterno surrounded by all those reporters as he hurried to practice this week, or his signature look on the sidelines.

Rolled-up khakis. Jet-black sneakers. Smoky, thick glasses. That famous Brooklyn accent that came off only as whiny as he wanted it to be.

"Deep down, I feel I've had an impact. I don't feel I've wasted my career," Paterno once said. "If I did, I would have gotten out a long time ago."

Along the road to the wins record, Paterno turned Penn State into one of the game's best-known programs, and the standard-bearer for college football success in the East.

National titles in 1982 and 1986 — with defenses under Sandusky — cemented him as one of the game's greats. In all, Paterno guided five teams to unbeaten, untied seasons, and he reached 300 wins faster than any other coach.

A year after he arrived at sleepy Penn State in 1966, Paterno began a 30-0-1 streak fueled by players such as Jack Ham and Dennis Onkotz.

But the Nittany Lions fell short in the polls, finishing No. 2 in 1968 and 1969 despite 11-0 records, and No. 5 in 1973 despite a 12-0 record.

In 1969, Texas edged out Penn State for the title with help from an unlikely source: President Richard Nixon declared the Longhorns No. 1 after their bowl game.

"I'd like to know," Paterno later said, "how could the president know so little about Watergate in 1973, and so much about college football in 1969?"

Elite status finally arrived in the 1980s. The Nittany Lions claimed national titles in 1982, with a 27-23 win over Georgia at the Sugar Bowl, and in 1986, intercepting Miami's Vinny Testaverde five times in a 14-10 win at the Fiesta Bowl.

They have made several title runs since then, including the 2005 run to the Orange Bowl and an 11-1 regular-season campaign in 2008 that ended with a trip to the Rose Bowl and a 37-23 loss to Southern California.

"He will go down as the greatest football coach in the history of the game. Every young coach, in my opinion, can take a lesson from him," former Florida coach Urban Meyer said after his last game with the Gators, a 37-24 win over Penn State at the 2011 Outback Bowl. Now Meyer's name will undoubtedly come up in the sweepstakes to replace Paterno.

Paterno's longevity became all the more remarkable as college football transformed into a big-money business.

The school estimated there have been at least 888 head coaching changes at FBS schools since Paterno took the job. He is the all-time leader in bowl appearances (37) and wins (24). And he sent more than 250 players to the NFL.

On Oct. 29, Penn State beat Illinois 10-7, earning Paterno win No. 409, breaking a tie with Grambling State's Eddie Robinson for most in Division I.

All he wanted to do, he had said two days earlier, was "hopefully have a little luck and have a little fun doing it. I've been lucky enough to be around some great athletes."

He said the success came because "the good Lord kept me healthy, not because I'm better than anybody else. It's because I've been around a lot longer than anybody else."

So long, in fact, that it seemed there was no getting rid of him, even as age and injuries crept up and his famous resistance to modern technology — tweeting, texting and other so-called must-haves of 21st century recruiting — turned him into a dinosaur.

But just as much, it was a string of mediocre seasons in the early 2000s that had fans wondering whether it was finally time for Paterno to step aside.

Others questioned how much actual work Paterno did in his later years. He always went out of his way to heap praise on his veteran assistants, especially if an injury help him from getting in a player's face in practice or demonstrating a technique.

"I'm not where I want to be, the blazing speed I used to have," he said in October, poking fun at himself. "It's been tough. ... it's a pain in the neck, let me put it that way."

Paterno cut back on road trips to see recruits. He ended his annual summer caravan across Pennsylvania to exchange handshakes and smiles with alumni and donors.

He often said he never read the newspaper — though the critical comments got back to him somehow. Some suspected his wife, Sue, kept him abreast of the news.

"You guys write stories about how I sit around and don't do anything," Paterno said after watching his 409th victory from the Beaver Stadium press box. "I just hope we can help the team do the things that they want to do."

Still, the question persisted: How much longer was he going to coach?

It was, until this week, the biggest question to dog him. That made him no different from the handful of coaching lifers who stay in the game into their 70s and beyond.

"Who knows," Paterno said with a straight face in October, when he was asked how his latest injuries affected his future. "Maybe I'll go 10 years."

The terms of his departure conflict significantly with the reputation he built over nearly a half-century of turning a quaint program into a powerhouse with instant name recognition.

He made it to the big-time without losing a sense of where he was — State College, population 42,000, a picturesque college town smack-dab in the middle of Pennsylvania.

Paterno and his wife, Sue, raised five children in State College. Anybody could ring up his modest ranch home using the number listed in the phone book under "Paterno, Joseph V." Anybody could walk up to offer good luck as he walked to home games.

Former players would parade through his living room, especially on a busy game weekend, for a chance to say "Hello."

For the most part, Paterno shunned the spotlight, though he had a knack for making a joke that could instantly light up a room.

"You guys have to talk about something. The fans have to put something on those — what do you guys call those things, Twittle-do, Twittle-dee?" Paterno cracked at one Big Ten media day.

He was referring, of course, to the social media site Twitter — and no, the technology-averse Paterno didn't have his own account.

Paterno had no qualms mocking himself or the media, with which he could be abrasive at times. Stubborn to a fault, Paterno also had his share of run-ins with his bosses or administrators, as might be expected for someone who has spent decades with the same employer.

His status didn't make him immune from external criticism. As his reputation grew, so did the spotlight on his on-field decisions and program as a whole.

In 2002, following a stretch of run-ins with officials over controversial calls, an effigy of a football official, yellow flag in hand, was seen hanging on the front door of Paterno's home. Though he never said how the doll got on the door, Paterno hinted his wife, Sue, might be responsible, and it was all done in fun.

After he started the 21st century with four losing seasons in five years, Paterno faced growing calls for his dismissal — once considered heresy in Happy Valley — during the 2004 season.

The next year, Penn State went 11-1 and won the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions capped the campaign with a thrilling 26-23 win in triple overtime at the Orange Bowl against Florida State and Paterno's longtime friend coach Bobby Bowden.

Following a messy split, Bowden left the Seminoles after the 2009 season after 34 years, finishing with 389 wins.

Asked in 2010 whether any contemporary coach would stick around as he and Paterno had, Bowden said: "Not likely. It doesn't seem to be the style nowadays." He cited high salaries and the demands that come with the big paycheck as reasons, along with the allure of professional coaching.

"And there doesn't seem to be the desire to stay in it as long as Joe and I have had," Bowden said.

To be sure, Paterno has had other opportunities — and they didn't all have to do with coaching. A 1950 graduate of Brown University, Paterno said his father, Angelo, hoped his son would someday become president. Paterno himself had plans to go to law school.

He also played football at Brown. A quarterback and cornerback, Paterno set a defensive record with 14 career interceptions — a distinction he boasts about on occasion to his team.

Law school never materialized. At 23, he was coaxed by Rip Engle, his former football coach at Brown, to work with him when Engle moved to Penn State in 1950.

"I had no intention to coach when I got out of Brown," Paterno said in 2007 at Beaver Stadium in an interview before being inducted into the Hall of Fame. "Come to this hick town? From Brooklyn?"

In 1963, a fellow Brooklyn native, the late Al Davis, became the general manager-coach of the Oakland Raiders of the AFL and offered Paterno the job of offensive coordinator. He turned Davis down in spite of an offer to triple his salary to about $18,000 and a new car.

Three years later, Paterno took over as Penn State's head coach after Engle retired. The New England Patriots offered Paterno the head-coaching job in the early 1970, only to be rebuffed.

When Engle and Paterno arrived, Penn State had seen three coaches in three years and had an offense made up mostly of walk-ons. Engle never had a losing season at Penn State, but when Paterno took over in 1966, the Lions still were considered "Eastern football" — in other words, inferior.

As the program turned into something much bigger than that, Paterno's fans always insisted it was more than simply about football and winning.

But the program hasn't been a perennial Top 10 contender, like it had been through the 1990s — not that Paterno measured success entirely by the outcome on the field.

"He teaches us about really just growing up and being a man," former linebacker Paul Posluszny, now with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, once said. "Besides the football, he's preparing us to be good men in life."

Paterno was a frequent speaker on ethics in sports, a conscience for a world often infiltrated by scandal or shady characters. He made sure his players went to class.

As of 2011, Penn State has had 49 academic All-Americans — 47 under Paterno — the third-highest total among FBS institutions.

The team's graduation rates consistently ranked among the best in the Big Ten. In 2010, Penn State's 84 percent rate trailed only Northwestern's 95, according to the NCAA.

In the ESPN special, Krzyzewski said Paterno had been able to "change how you teach ... without changing the values of how you teach."

Comments

08Champs 10 years, 6 months ago

I think it's worth noting that the graduate teaching assistant (Mike McCreary) that did NOT report the sexual assault to the proper authorities - has been rewarded with a nice, cushy coaching job at Penn State? Shows you what you can get if you keep your mouth shut I guess.

Cathy Tarr 10 years, 6 months ago

He is unbelievable! He is "standing by his actions" to do nothing as a 10 year old boy was raped! The whole group should be in jail, not given jobs or allowed to wait until the end of the year to "retire".

blackhawkjayhawk 10 years, 6 months ago

Best college job available in America. I would never had mentioned this name before, but don't be surprised if Bill Cowher's name doesn't pop up.

CardHawkFan 10 years, 6 months ago

It's a tragedy what happened and it seems the sinking ship is taking everyone down with it, as it should. If you had any knowledge these transgressions took place, it is your duty to report it to the proper authorities, not just the ones who cut you a check. Cowher would a great pick, that way we might still a few choices left over when our FB job becomes vacant.

Ludwig Supraphonic 10 years, 6 months ago

The Grand Jury report is chilling. Heartbreaking for the children. The report characterizes a ruthless and brazen sexual perpetrator; with details that make it hard to presume innocence. Unfortunately, the victim list will undoubtedly grow. If only some of the adults, who feel remorseful today, would have questioned Sandusky's relationship and unlimited access to so many children.

Nancy Borst 10 years, 6 months ago

Hornhawk - agreed. "Chilling" and "disgusting" were the words that came to mind as I read the grand jury report. As for the grad asst's handling of the matter, he was young and in shock. He went to Paterno, who then should have made sure the police were aware. The buck stopped with him. If you haven't read the grand jury report, be warned: it will make you sick. Sandusky comes across as an evil, sick, manipulative predator. All of this puts our football issues in serious perspective.

blindrabbit 10 years, 6 months ago

The arrogance of this man is unbelievable but understandable given the Penn State situation. Paterno realizes he must go but is looking to diminish his culpability by closing out the season with possible wins against Nebraska, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Big10 Championship game and a bowl. The university should fire him on the spot and not allow him to dictate the terms of his departure.

Mat Davis 10 years, 6 months ago

I find it hard to believe that Sandusky only started doing this in 1994. His foundation started in the 1980's, so there could substantially more victims who will come forward. Also, three of his kids were adopted via his foundation. One can only imagine what may have been happening in that household. I feel for his victims, as the psychological toll is not something you would soon forget.

Ervin O'Neal 10 years, 6 months ago

"I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today," Paterno said.

Hey Joe, doing what you thought was in the best interest of the university is exactly what we are all upset with you about! While you are teaching all those young men about integrity, how about teaching those big strong men one of the golden rules we live by as Americans. Have you ever heard of the phrase "We protect those who can't protect themselves"? If so, here is a clue, thinking Sandusky couldn't HELP himself does not take away the fact that it was the KID that couldn't PROTECT himself.

Up until last week, Sandusky maintained an office in the football facilities at Penn State and would regularly use the workout facilities and locker room. The mere fact that McCreary and Paterno could put up with the fact that this "retired" coach could have access to their facilities (much less an office and use the locker room and showers) tells me a lot about the lack of character in both men.

Paterno is the face of that school (not just the football team). If anyone had the power to get rid of Sandusky, he did. To try and justify his role by saying he reported the incident up the chain of command is inexcusable. As a father, this is the minimum response that I could have accepted from Paterno: (1) Having two of his linemen drag Sandusky's badly beaten body to the AD's office. (2) Telling the AD to call the police on this worthless piece of sh&t. (3) And if the AD or President gave any resistance, scream out "I'm Joe F'ing Paterno Bit$#es. Call the police, or I'll call them right after I call the press!"

And does anyone believe the a$$ covering stories from the administrators? They are claiming they didn't know just what had happened. They wanted the grand jury to believe that McCreary actually saw a young boy being sodomized in a shower in the locker room, but he (or Paterno) somehow only said he saw "actions of a sexual nature that seemed innappropriate." That sure sounds like something their lawyer told them to say.

Robert Brown 10 years, 6 months ago

It used to be that whenever I thought of Joe Paterno and Penn State, I immediated thought of the 1969 Orange Bowl, 14-13, oops 12 man on the field, 15-14! Sadly, that's changed after the events disclosed this week.

topeka52 10 years, 6 months ago

I disagree about the Patrick Dennehy/Baylor happenings being worse than Sandusky and the children. While the Dennehy/Baylor situation was bad beyond belief, it didn't spread any further than Dave Bliss in Athletic Department.

The situation at Happy Valley has a long and visabllly disturbing history dating back to 1994 and lasting to 2009. The incident in 1998 was sweep under the rug but Sandusky who did retire, was allowed to continue his access to PSU facilities, having an office in the football complex, holding summer camps for kids, taking kids to games/ bowl games, over night stays at hotels and more. After the 2002 incident where he was witnessed to have assulted a child, the SYSTEM, McCleary, Paterno, AD, VP and school president failed to inform the police. The only punishment was he was told to no longer bring children to the PSU facilities but was still allowed to use other PSU School facilities in other cities. He continued to assult children in his home, in the high school that he volentered at up untill 2009.

Again the Dennehy/Baylor case is bad but in no way worse than Sandusky/PSU

milehighhawk 10 years, 6 months ago

Paterno should not be allowed to retire on his own terms.

He should be forced out.

He was told very explicitly what happened and he did nothing to prevent Sandusky from heading up a children's charity. That is not acceptable. He is either culpable or incompetent, or both, and needs to be fired immediately.

Dyrk Dugan 10 years, 6 months ago

no way in the world should he coach another practice.....let alone games...at Penn St.

he should be shown the door immediately. what happened to those half dozen or more kids should never have happened...and if you could have put a stop to it, you should have.

No one...and i mean NO ONE...interviewed the grad assistant, the kid, the coach, or the parents....not A SOUL. completely and utterly despicable.

JoePa is not even going to be charged...he's lucky. so the only punishment he'll get is retiring? that's disgraceful.

walk him out NOW. if he's on the sideline or in press box or whereever he coaches from these days on Saturday...then it's wrong. flat out wrong.

Chris1955 10 years, 6 months ago

Honestly, I have never thought much of "Joe Pa". For many years, I have always felt he was a fraud. Also, it seemed to me that you shouldn't get credit for coaching wins if you're sitting in the booth upstairs and not on the sidelines.

However, I must admit that I didnt know he was a pedo enabler POS.

Steve Brown 10 years, 6 months ago

judge not lest you be judged, fair enough but here goes anyway.

coaches, scout leaders, preists, counselors, bus drivers, teachers, anyone entrusted with care of our youth have extra obligation to be better role models than average joe. much like bad for anyone to take a bribe yet worse for policeman or elected officials to take bribes.

I know it is not the same thing but recall when Bill Snyder had that player violate team rules and still played in the bowl game and Tom Osborne had that player that threw his girlfriend down the staircase and he still played in future games?

Perception clashes with reality when Clean, Tough White uniform Paterno has this under the covers, it doesn't jive and so we have to once again learn the cover up is worse than the crime. Recall Clinton lying to grand jury regarding his pattern of behavior in his Paula Jones sexual harrasment case, recall G. Bush 42 saying he knew nothing about arms for hostages and drug triangle, then the CIA plane went down in central America with pilot having the Bush desk phone number on him, and don't get me started about Woodward and Bernstein, times too far back for most of you.

It is difficult to have a always point north moral compass, when you 'think' the exposure would somehow tarnish all your life has built up, yet there are examples, albeit few and far.

I wish I were a Penn State fan so my voice would have standing, then I would say, Thanks coach for all you did for us, we love you, but please leave and leave today.

jgkojak 10 years, 6 months ago

Are you telling me that this guy who was Paterno's asst coach for 30 years, and Paterno had no idea he was a sick freak? Come on.

Bob Forer 10 years, 6 months ago

"Deep down, I feel I've had an impact."

Oh, you are so right, JoPa. Your cowardice in failing to take any type of affirmative action by going to the authorities--not to mention the fact that you allowed Sandusky to continue to have unfettered access to the football program and facilities--allowed a serial child rapist to sexually assault more young boys.

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