National Columnist

Untouchable no more: Paterno out at Penn State


Paterno not acting on Jerry Sandusky's issues cost him and PSU president Graham Spanier their jobs. (AP)  
Paterno not acting on Jerry Sandusky's issues cost him and PSU president Graham Spanier their jobs. (AP)  

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- In hindsight, Joe Paterno is absolutely devastated. Those were his words on Wednesday -- "absolutely devastated." And that was a start. It was a lot better than his actions Tuesday, when he was absolutely pleased to bask in the adulation of the Penn State students in his lawn.

If he had to do it all over again, Joe Paterno would have done more. Those also were his words Wednesday -- "I wish I had done more." And that was a start. It was a lot more than he felt he should do in 2002, when he was told of an apparent sexual assault committed by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on a young boy within his football building. In 2002, Paterno didn't do very much. He literally did the legal minimum. He told his supervisor, and then he went on with his life.

As did Jerry Sandusky.

Nine years later, the count of Sandusky's alleged victims has reached nine. There are reports that it could hit 20 or more. Joe Paterno didn't do that, no. But he didn't stop it either. That's why he says "I wish I had done more." And that's why he's "absolutely devastated."

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And that's why he couldn't coach this Saturday. Or next Saturday. Or ever again.

Penn State's Board of Trustees didn't need hindsight to know that, either. Joe Paterno simply couldn't coach this team one more time, even if it would be one last time. This is Penn State's home finale, and Paterno announced Wednesday morning that he is retiring at the end of the season. That was good, but not nearly good enough.

Paterno, cheered by more than 100,000 people on Saturday? Idolized for three more hours? Upheld as a hero, as a paragon of virtue, as everything that is right about Penn State?

That couldn't happen, because Paterno is none of those things. Not anymore.

Joe Paterno was part of a cowardly system that looked the other way for nine years as an alleged pedophile was roaming State College. More than that -- Sandusky was using the Penn State football offices as one of his home bases.

And so Joe Paterno is done, four games before the end of his 46th season at Penn State. A few days ago, that didn't seem possible. Paterno had called the shots here for decades. He had been untouchable, refusing to retire when he reached age 65, then 70, then 75, even as his program was scuffling along in mediocrity as he turned 78. He was untouchable, and that seemed to extend even to these horrific circumstances when his supervisor, athletics director Tim Curley, and vice president Gary Schultz were indicted on charges of not acting on that alleged assault in 2002 ... but Paterno was not.

Untouchable, even now. Even after this. That's how it looked until Wednesday morning, when Paterno announced that he was resigning after this season. But even in making that announcement -- when he noted that he was "absolutely devastated" and that "I wish I had done more" -- Paterno tried to call the shots. He tried to tell the Penn State Board of Trustees to leave him alone, to let him exit on his terms.

Paterno said, "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."

You catch the key line in there?

The Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status.

Because Paterno had already made that decision, see. He has always made the decisions regarding his football program, which might just explain why his "bosses" didn't report Jerry Sandusky's alleged sexual assault in 2002 to police: If Paterno isn't reporting it to police, why would anyone else? It's his program, and Sandusky was his longtime assistant, and the alleged assault happened in his building. Paterno calls the shots. Subliminally, he called that one in 2002.

Which means someone else had to call this one, now. The Board of Trustees had been dared by Paterno to try -- just try -- to keep him from coaching on Saturday. The Board of Trustees called that bluff, informing Paterno that he has served Penn State well for 61 years, but that his one ethical lapse, perhaps his only ethical lapse, was of such a grievous nature that he could not be allowed to lead this football team even once more.

In State College, Penn State students have strongly supported Paterno this week, missing the irony that the roughly 10-year-old kid in that alleged incident in 2002 would be a college student today. Maybe a Penn State student. Maybe that kid is a Penn State student. Nobody knows who he is, and if that's the way he wants it, I hope we never find out. His identity is his business, not ours.

Penn State students have spent the last few days marching all over campus -- to Paterno's house, to the stadium, even to the campus nerve center, a beautiful building called Old Main. They have marched in support of Paterno. They believe he should coach this Saturday, and as long as he wants to coach. That's their position.

In less biased and more mature circles, the position seems to have been different. The position elsewhere, outside of State College, seemed strongly in the other camp: Paterno should not coach Saturday, just as receivers coach Mike McQueary should not coach on Saturday, and PSU president Graham Spanier should not (and apparently will not) still be the school president on Saturday, and the "on leave" AD, Tim Curley, should not still have the make-believe option of returning to his office ever again. Anyone who knew about the allegations against Jerry Sandusky in 2002 -- a list that started with McQueary, who told Paterno, who told Curley -- cannot represent the school. Not in an official capacity.

Not ever again.

But on Wednesday morning, Paterno threw out this challenge:

The Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status.

And now the Board has thrown out its own challenge -- nay, its final word -- to Joe Paterno. Call it a firing, call it a resignation, call it a retirement. Call it whatever you want.

But call it over.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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