Posted by Adam Jacobi
On Wednesday morning, Joe Paterno announced that he would retire at the end of Penn State's football season. On Wednesday evening, the Penn State board of trustees decided that wasn't enough.
The trustees cleaned house at a Wednesday night meeting, announcing that both Paterno and PSU president Graham Spanier were done with the school effective immediately. That means Joe Paterno's legendary, 46-year career as head coach of Penn State is, as of today, officially over. Tom Bradley, who has spent the last 33 years coaching alongside Paterno as a defensive assistant, has been named the interim head coach for the rest of the 2011 season.
John P. Surma, the vice chairman of the board of trustees, announced at the ensuing press conference that the decision to remove Paterno was unanimous. "The university is much larger than its athletic teams," said Surma. The press conference was marked by numerous angry and accusatory questions, many of which Surma chose to ignore.
Paterno, 84, leaves Penn State as the winningest coach in major college football history, having just passed Grambling legend Eddie Robinson in his last game. He was notified of the board's decision by phone call, according to Surma, and after the press conference, he greeted a small group of students who had come to his house by telling them, "Right now I'm not the football coach."
Later, Paterno issued a longer statement from his home, saying the following:
"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, it's 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 of 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 be forever in your debt."
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Paterno's firing comes as his Nittany Lions are ranked 12th in the nation and leading the Big Ten Leaders Division with an 8-1 (5-0) record. It was the 19th time in his career that a Paterno-led Penn State team had started the season with at least eight wins in its first nine games.
The status of Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and of vice president/treasurer Gary Schultz is still to be determined. Both men face charges for perjury and failure to report child abuse in their roles in the Sandusky scandal. Surma would not say at the conference whether the two men would continue to have their legal fees paid by the university.
Paterno has come under harsh criticism - including from within the community known as Happy Valley - for not taking more action in 2002 after then-graduate assistant and current assistant coach Mike McQueary came to him and reported seeing Sandusky in the Penn State showers with a 10-year-old boy. Paterno notified Curley and Schultz.
Earlier Wednesday, Paterno had said in a statement that he was "absolutely devastated by the developments in this case." "I grieve for the children and their families," said Paterno, "and I pray for their comfort and relief."
Paterno informed his players on Wednesday of his intent to retire in an tear-filled team meeting. Afterward, many players told the media that they had never seen Paterno so emotional.
"In all the clips I've seen of him, I've never seen him break down and cry," quarterback Paul Jones said. "And he was crying the whole time today."
Cornerback Stephon Morris said some players also were nearly in tears themselves. "I still can't believe it. I've never seen Coach Paterno like that in my life," Morris said.
The Penn State football game with Nebraska is still scheduled for this Saturday in the Nittany Lions' home finale. But for the first time since 1950, Paterno will not be there as a member of the Nittany Lions coaching staff.