An astonishing saga: Penn State tells Joe Paterno to go away

Joe Paterno on his last afternoon as Penn State's coach. (AP photo)

Joe Paterno at football practice on his last afternoon as Penn State's coach. (AP photo)

Even at the bitter end, Joe Paterno wanted to choose the time of his leaving. His letter of impending-at-season’s-end resignation, offered earlier Wednesday, included this virtual dare to those who were technically his superiors: “At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status.”

Twelve hours later, Penn State’s Board of Trustees took his dare. The man who’d worked at the university since 1950 — Richard Nixon, who would as President of these United States incur Paterno’s wrath by declaring Texas and not Paterno’s undefeated Nittany Lions the best college football team of 1969, was then a freshman Senator from California — will coach no more.

Joe Paterno made it through 45 full seasons as head coach, but he’s out, at age 84, with three regular-season games remaining in the 46th. We can and will debate for years whether this was the right course for Paterno, but at this overheated moment it seemed the only tenable course for Penn State.

Much earlier in the day, former Georgia coach Vince Dooley — who has known Paterno for nearly half a century and who considers him a friend — had said: “Two or three games before he’s going out, this comes up … It’s an unfortunate situation.”

It is. It’s the saddest and sickest story in the history of intercollegiate sports. The arrest of longtime Paterno assistant Jerry Sandusky on charges of sexually abusing children has, in the span of five days, done what neither age nor outside pressure could do — it dislodged the winningest coach in major-college history from his job.

It wasn’t that Paterno knew about Sandusky and did nothing. In 2002 he reported an eyewitness account of Sandusky, who by then had retired from coaching, sexually assaulting a boy on Penn State property. The bigger issue had become: Did Paterno do enough? Why, when there appeared to be no follow-through regarding an investigation, didn’t he call the police himself? Why was Sandusky allowed to retain emeritus status at the university?

At a place where it has lately appeared no one was in charge, the man who’d come to symbolize Penn State — “Success With Honor” was Paterno’s credo — has taken the hardest fall. But what was the alternative? To allow Paterno to lead his team onto the field Saturday for a game against Nebraska? To again stand as the representative of the Penn State Way? To turn a college football game into an international forum on the horrors of sexual abuse?

As Dooley, whose Bulldogs had lost to Paterno’s Penn State on Jan. 1, 1983, in a game for the national championship, said: “Paterno did report [the eyewitness account] to the AD. From a legal standpoint, they’ve said they’re not going to prosecute or indict [Paterno] or whatever. But as people began to think about it, they felt he should have pushed [the investigation] more.”

Then: “I’m sure he wishes he had pushed it more … It was obviously a mistake in judgment.”

Sure enough, Paterno said in the statement announcing his plan to retire: “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

By then, the damage to Paterno’s reputation was so severe that remorse couldn’t save it. The only way out was for Joe to go now. But now we ask: Can time and distance repair a legacy that, as late as a week ago, was considered pristine?

Taking the broader view, Dooley had said: “In long run, I don’t think it’s going to affect him. It will be talked about and written about and people will second-guess him, but there has been too much strength over the long haul. Time will pass.”

Dooley on Paterno himself: “I’ve always thought of him as an upright, honest person. I still think that of him.”

When I mentioned that Penn State football had often been held up as the model football program, Dooley corrected me. “There is no perfect program,” he said. “There never will be.”

We cannot know tonight how history will remember Joe Paterno. As a good man who looked the wrong way at the worst possible moment? As a self-absorbed coach who, sensing that his legacy might be at stake, took the path of least resistance? As a human being, possessed of strengths and weaknesses like all human beings?

There are no perfect programs, Dooley said, and this astonishing saga has reminded us that there no are no perfect human beings. Contrary to its billing, Penn State was no Happy Valley — just another vale of tears.

By Mark Bradley

462 comments Add your comment

Jeff

November 9th, 2011
10:34 pm

No 1st on this ugly, tragic story.

Techman

November 9th, 2011
10:34 pm

Congrats Mark. You and the knee jerk reaction media got your wish.

Rich T

November 9th, 2011
10:36 pm

Wow. Just wow.

BigDawg

November 9th, 2011
10:39 pm

Good riddance to a pitiful enabler!!

phil

November 9th, 2011
10:40 pm

Well done, media….ruin an old man with little in the way of facts to go on….

I’m embarassed for you, mark, not paterno.

Legend of Len Barker

November 9th, 2011
10:40 pm

If Joe Paterno had been interested in doing the right thing, he would have pursued more details in 1998.

If Joe Paterno had been interested in doing the right thing, he would have pursued it in 2002.

If Joe Paterno had been interested in doing the right thing, Sandusky would NOT have been allowed on campus.

If Joe Paterno had been interested in doing the right thing, he wouldn’t have been yukking it up with students and insinuating that the victims weren’t that.

If Joe Paterno had been interested in doing the right thing, he would have stepped down immediately.

If Joe Paterno had been interested in doing the right thing, he wouldn’t have made this all about him.

If Joe Paterno was lax enough on letting a guy with the weight of accusations such that they were on Sandusky stay around for for as long as he did, what else would Paterno cover up.

Ladies and gentleman, a sham has been ousted. What Joe Paterno has stood for over the past 50 years has been a lie.

bryan

November 9th, 2011
10:41 pm

anyone who thinks this was a bad decision is sick. it was reported to him by an eyewitness what went on. he took it to the next step, but he should have followed up and done more. if it was your kid in that bathroom you’d think differently. he didnt do the bad deads, but he didnt do ENOUGH to stop it, and other kids paid the price for the silence and lack of reporting to even higher authorities. adults should always take up for those that cant take care of themselves.

BigDawg

November 9th, 2011
10:41 pm

To know of such horrible things and keep quiet is unforgivable. Saint Joe, I don’t think so. What’s that they say Joe Paterno, you legacy has gone away….

cattle dawg

November 9th, 2011
10:41 pm

Success With Honor……. He didnt practice what he preached.

VOJay

November 9th, 2011
10:42 pm

What do you think of when you hear Coach Woody Hayes.

Techman

November 9th, 2011
10:42 pm

by the way, the guy who actually witnessed this still has his job.

David Granger

November 9th, 2011
10:43 pm

I thought that Coach Paterno should have retired several years ago. You have to know that other schools were recruiting against his age, and against his conservatism. I have an army buddy…big PSU fan…who insists that Terrelle Pryor wanted to go to Penn State, but didn’t because of Paterno’s conservative offense. (Might have been a blessing for Penn State NOT to have gotten Pryor.)
A legend like Joe Pa you want to let go out on his own terms. But when the right time comes and goes, you need to say “Coach, We need to think about the future of the football program now. It’s time to do something.”
I have always liked Joe Paterno, and have felt that he ran a clean program. He’s had a lot of character and class, though I think he should have done more in regards to this scandal. (Don’t know about Pennsylvania, but most states have laws that require teachers, coaches, principals to report suspected abuse to the appropriate state department, who then investigates.)
I do hate that his career will end up being forever tarred by this scandal.

BigDawg

November 9th, 2011
10:43 pm

Maybe they can strip Joe Paterno, of victories I’m saying!

phil

November 9th, 2011
10:43 pm

Meanwhile, ESPN goes to the genius GM, Matt Millen, for perspective….

What in the hell is going on with you media folks?

You guys bash penn st, etc for being all about money, but what the heck are you doing sensationalizing this tragedy if not to sell papers?

Anyway….i hope in the end you’re right.

jvillebil

November 9th, 2011
10:45 pm

Amen barker. All Joe cared about was himself

immutable

November 9th, 2011
10:45 pm

Bradley,
It’s time the media (you included) stop giving a pass to that pathetic coward McQueary. This is a man that could of done something to stop it, yet he runs home to daddy instead. What a gutless wonder that man is. Not only could he have stopped this event right then and there, it could of prevented future kids from being assaulted by that despicable and evil predator. Time for you and the rest of the media to start calling out McQueary for his pitiful and inexcusable inaction.

You Reap What You Sow

November 9th, 2011
10:45 pm

The world has gone MAD! People are throwing our CHILDREN under the bus for their on self interest.

Joe should have known better. He did not care about those children he only cared about his career and football.

Our children deserve better and they deserve our PROTECTION.

Oh Joe you reap what you sow.

Paul in NH

November 9th, 2011
10:45 pm

Mark – a pretty good post on your part considering how quickly this story has moved in the last few days. It truly is a sad and sickening story.

No new news

November 9th, 2011
10:46 pm

White men have been messing with boys since the beginning of time. All the way back to the Roman Empire days and before then. Will anyone ever fire the Catholic Priests, they covered up molesting little boys for decades. Just my thought.

Mark Bradley

November 9th, 2011
10:46 pm

Thanks, Paul.

jvillebil

November 9th, 2011
10:46 pm

Some idiot on TV is saying “Why now?” Just read the grand jury report. I hope they fire McQueary too!

observor

November 9th, 2011
10:47 pm

Bradley,
It’s time the media (you included) stop giving a pass to that pathetic coward McQueary. This is a man that could of done something to stop it, yet he runs home to daddy instead. Then instead of doing the bare minimum right thing to do, which is call the authorities, he just reports it to Coach Grandpa instead. What a gutless wonder that man is. Not only could he have stopped this event right then and there, it could of prevented future kids from being assaulted by that despicable and evil predator. Time for you and the rest of the media to start calling out McQueary for his pitiful and inexcusable inaction.

phil

November 9th, 2011
10:47 pm

Earth to Idiots…

This kind of horrible thing has been going on all around all of you all the time and will continue to.

Don’t believe me?

Read the Opinions in the Fulton County Daily Report now and then…

The world hasn’t GONE mad, it’s been mad.

observor

November 9th, 2011
10:48 pm

Bradley,
You and your media bretheren going to call out that pathetic gutless coward McQueary and stop giving him a free pass in all this? That man is disgrace and should never coach again.

ECB

November 9th, 2011
10:48 pm

Frankly, there was no other way this could (or should) have ended. Once Paterno knew, he was obligated to make sure this was stopped. Instead, he took the easy way out. For that, he deserves to be fired. That assistant coach who witnessed the abuse and failed to intervene should also be fired. This is so sad.

bad brad

November 9th, 2011
10:48 pm

What a sorry mess. When you turn a blind eye to an intolerable situation, you deserve what you get.

jvillebil

November 9th, 2011
10:48 pm

If McQueary was as upset as he claimed he was, why didn’t he press Joe for more answers?

Mr Charlie

November 9th, 2011
10:49 pm

This investigation has gone on for years, how in the world is it just now being reported?

Thoroughbred

November 9th, 2011
10:49 pm

I can’t beleive people are sticking up for Paterno. Seriously he knew kids were getting raped and didn’t go to the police. SICK SICK MAN

As Bad As Joe

November 9th, 2011
10:49 pm

“Techman

November 9th, 2011
10:34 pm

Congrats Mark. You and the knee jerk reaction media got your wish.”

Techman, I would not trust you to do the right thing about little boy rapists any more than I would trust the powers that be at Penn State.

Anyone who supports the idea of a football program and an old man’s legacy over keeping a 10 year old boy from being raped by a former assistant is a sick *&^%

I wouldn’t trust you with my 10 year old!

If the shoe fits……..

You Reap What You Sow

November 9th, 2011
10:49 pm

@phil November 9th, 2011 10:40 pm

Shame on you! You are no better than Joe! You would throw those children under the bus too!

What would you have to say if it were your son? SHAME ON YOU PHIL!

SEC Commissioner

November 9th, 2011
10:50 pm

This is a day that is long long over due. Now Bobby Bowden looks like the Saint he is. When Bobby was told to leave he left and is capable of coming and going as he pleases, while Joe Pa will have to endure questions from various sources that no 84 year old man should have to endure. Our grandparents are not built for this type of media abuse. With that being said, Joe Paterno and his band of supporters in College Station should have handled this when he was 70 something and in much better condition to lay the groundwork for his legacy instead of hoping the wins would be is legacy.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

November 9th, 2011
10:50 pm

I do not see how you can blame Bradley or anyone in the media for this outcome. As a leader of young men Joe Paterno should have done more to protect them. He is only to blame himself and the pervert Sandusky. It is a terrible outcome for Paterno but for also the 9 victims that we know of thus far.

If Penn State had done the right thing back in 1998 we would not be where we are today nor would Joe Paterno. Also Sandusky would not have been on the streets to lure or prey on underpriveldged young men in our society.

William

November 9th, 2011
10:50 pm

What a sad ending to a wonderful man and career. I try and think what I would have done in that situation. I’m not sure what I would have done. He thought he did the right thing reporting it to the AD. Obviously he should have done more. It’s a big mess. So many lives ruined by Sandusky and his morbid actions.

itpdude

November 9th, 2011
10:50 pm

Mob-rule won tonight and people like you, Bradley, stoked the mentality.

I hope you get swept up in a controversial case and are summarily terminated before given a fair hearing.

May 12 angry men not interested in a sober investigation of the facts visit you some day.

Mr Charlie

November 9th, 2011
10:50 pm

Jvillle, not only did he not press Joe for answers, he continued to work there for years. WTF? Nobody thinks that is strange? A mother confronted Sandusky, and he admitted it, where was the Media?

Jeff

November 9th, 2011
10:51 pm

Backlash against the media, really? I find myself getting only angrier as I have stepped away and let this story sink in. People’s lives were ruined due to Joe Pa’s inaction, period. He didn’t deserve to coach out his career. There is a theoretical ranking of culpability starting with Sandusky obviously but make no mistake Joe Pa is on the list. If he had followed up they could’ve locked up Sandusky a decade sooner. How many more boys had their lives ruined? And you want him to coach it out? What planet do you people live on?

Egbert

November 9th, 2011
10:51 pm

The only reason Joe Pa didn’t report what he knew is the same reason he overstayed his welcome by 10+ years. He was willing to sacrifice the school, the program, and the welfare of all the victims who came after he was told about the attack, to chase his record. His unwillingness to go to the authorities and to inquire, as an educator, further into what he had been told is inexcusable. I would not be surprised if he and McQueary are indicted as well.

Techman

November 9th, 2011
10:52 pm

As Bad as Joe – I don’t care that you wouldn’t let me watch your kid. What bothers me is he’s going to learn his daddy’s knee jerk reaction and mob mentality without having an inch of patience and waiting for the full truth and facts to come out.

cattle dawg

November 9th, 2011
10:52 pm

Mcreary will resign.

Mr Charlie

November 9th, 2011
10:52 pm

How in the world has this been investigated for years without any media attention?

K Mahoney

November 9th, 2011
10:53 pm

This action is wrong, period. The press, Penn State is looking for a scapegoat. Joe does should not be treated this way. He reported it, Penn State did nothing. Fire Penn State. Penn State is looking a money, not people.

jvillebil

November 9th, 2011
10:53 pm

Charlie: McQueary got sucked in right along with everyone else in the cover up for the sake of their own careers.

phil

November 9th, 2011
10:53 pm

You reap what you sow – think what you will, doof. If it was my son, Sandusky would be deceased.

People like you are much more dangerous than a random molester. The idiot type that can’t think for themselves. The lynch em because mark bradley says they did it types.

That’s what’s scary.

Former Georgian

November 9th, 2011
10:53 pm

“An unfortunate situation”? “a mistake in judgement”? Spoken like the Catholic Dooley is. What is it about male Catholics that they aren’t as horrified as the rest of us about these things? I could be wrong, but isn’t Paterno also a Catholic? The horrible sins covered up by the Catholic hierarchy appears to convince their members that child molestation is no big deal. It certainly does happen in other denominations, but the conspiracy to cover up these crimes is certainly larger and more pervasive in the Catholic culture.

Mr Charlie

November 9th, 2011
10:54 pm

Is this guys name really McCreary?

The hot seat....

November 9th, 2011
10:54 pm

PSU Trustees did the right thing.

Let’s not forget that this doesn’t just go back to the assistant telling Paterno what he saw in 2002. There were documented instances going back to 1998 as well. Does anyone really think Paterno didn’t know about the 1998 instances? And he continued to let Sandusky coach at PSU. Was Sandusky reprimanded between 1998 and 2002? Did Paterno restrict him from anything during those years? Good grief, it just smells of a huge cover up. I believe when all the facts are known there will be no doubt that the almighty “JoePa” knew what was going on and was indifferent.

cattle dawg

November 9th, 2011
10:54 pm

Turn to CNN and watch the stupid penn state students

jvillebil

November 9th, 2011
10:54 pm

Unless you’ve read the full report of the grand jury, don’t make any comments sticking up for Joe. And if you have read the report and are still sticking up for Joe, well then you’re and idiot

Lowcountry Bulldawg

November 9th, 2011
10:56 pm

Lets see Bear Bryant lived how long after he stopped coaching Bama? I hope Sandusky can live with himself knowing that this stress and hoopla may very well end up leading to the same situation with Paterno. Lets prey it does not…