Joe Paterno was fired after scandal for 'failure of leadership,' Penn State trustees say
Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno pushes his way through his players during a timeout at a game last year.
March 12th, 2012
11:20 AM ET

Joe Paterno was fired after scandal for 'failure of leadership,' Penn State trustees say

Joe Paterno was fired as head coach of the Penn State football team because the university's board of trustees thought he failed to take his knowledge of a scandal at the school to the appropriate authorities, the board said in a report posted online Monday.

The trustees said they based their decision to fire Paterno heavily on testimony he gave to a grand jury about allegations that former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with a minor.

During testimony, Paterno said that he was told by a graduate assistant that Sandusky was in the showers "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy."

"While Coach Paterno did his legal duty by reporting that information the next day, Sunday, March 3, to his immediate superior, the then Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley, the Board reasonably inferred that he did not call police," said the report explaining Paterno's firing. "We determined that his decision to do his minimum legal duty and not to do more to follow up constituted a failure of leadership by Coach Paterno."

The head coach died in January at the age of 85.

Paterno's family released a statement saying they felt the report was an attempt to deflect criticism from the university.

"The Paterno family is surprised and saddened that the Board of Trustees believes it is necessary and appropriate to explain – for the fourth or fifth time – why they fired Joe Paterno so suddenly and unjustifiably on Nov 9, 2011," they said. "The latest statement is yet another attempt by the Board to deflect criticism of their leadership by trying to focus the blame on Joe Paterno.

"This is not fair to Joe's legacy; it is not consistent with the facts; and it does not serve the best interests of the University. The Board's latest statement reaffirms that they did not conduct a thorough investigation of their own and engaged in a rush to judgment."

In their report, the trustees said they spent hours during the course of a week discussing how they should react to the scandal and who needed to be held responsible. The board fired Penn State President Graham Spanier along with Paterno.

"We determined on Nov. 9 that Dr. Spanier should be removed because he failed to meet his leadership responsibilities to the Board and took insufficient action" after learning about the incident, the board said in its report. "This failure of leadership included insufficiently informing the Board about his knowledge of the 2002 incident. He also made or was involved in press announcements between Nov. 5-9 that were without authorization of the Board or contrary to its instructions."

When Spanier asked for a vote of confidence, the trustees could not give it and told him that they unanimously agreed to fire him. The same unanimous vote was made to fire Paterno.

Many people across the nation reacted with shock to the allegations about Sandusky's behavior, to the firing of one of college football's most iconic coaches and to how the news was delivered. In the days after the scandal, it came to light that Paterno wanted to speak to the media. But ultimately, as media and supporters crowded Paterno's home in Happy Valley, the first words that the world heard were that "JoePa" had been fired.

Under his leadership, the Nittany Lions won two national championships, went undefeated five times and finished in the top 25 national rankings 35 times, according to Paterno's official Penn State biography.

The trustees said their announcement of Paterno's firing did not go the way they had wanted, but given the media circus and number of people at Paterno's home, a telephone call was the best way to do it.

Not long after the scandal erupted, Paterno grew sicker as he battled lung cancer. He was admitted to a hospital and died on January 22. Penn State said that Paterno's contributions to the school, the football program and Happy Valley will not go unnoticed, despite his tenure ending with a dark cloud of scandal.

"Many alumni, faculty, staff and students are inquiring about how we plan to honor Coach Paterno’s many contributions to the University," the board said in its report. "It has always been the Board’s intention to fulfill his employment contract and to name him head coach emeritus."

soundoff (383 Responses)
  1. cindy

    Funny how they let a federal judge in Montana stay on the bench after showing extremely poor judgement, but fire a college football coach for "failure of leadership".

    March 12, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • MC

      Gee, half-wit, I didn't realize that the Penn State board was responsible for judges in Montana. I guess you learn something new every day.

      March 12, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Colorado Kid

      MC, I believe Cindy was using what we in the educated world call a "comparison". Gee, I guess you learn something new every day. That would make you, what, no-wit?

      March 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Great Falls

      We'd love to fire the judge. Unfortunately, since he has to be impeached and no Republican would ever vote to do so, he stays on the bench in all his bigoted, vicious glory.

      March 12, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Howard

    Why is this on CNN's front page again??? This isn't even news. Paterno was held accountable for his part in the scandal and properly fired. The board did it's duty in swiftly serving justice, the public is fully aware of it, and the case was closed months ago. Why bring this up again? News a little slow today? Can we move on now with some current events, hmmm?

    March 12, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • c

      Because those litttle boys need to know that the adult's cared more about them than a stupid game.

      March 12, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      Sandusky is in court again today. The BOT had to make sure we know they "care"

      March 12, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      One would think THIS would be front-page instead a a redundant memo....

      March 12, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |

    For heaven's sake, people (and CNN). The poor man is dead – destroyed by this how fiasco. Even though I am also a Michigan graduate (not PSU) and was the victim of abuse as a young child, there's nothing to be gained by flailing a dead horse (or, in this case, coach). He's paid his price for not knowing what to do. Can't you find some other way to get your jollies?! I guess it's like a friend of mine once said: "if it smells, it sells".

    March 12, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • PATRICK A.

      The man was just a crook who cared more about his legacy.he thought he was GOD on campus and do as he pleases.

      March 12, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      Because what should have been a universal "Yeap, he failed his duty as a moral human being." Is actually not all that universal. People seems to be ok with the fact he did the minimum possible and allowed this to continue for the next 10 years. In fact they criticize the School Board for firing him. So as long as the other side is beating the dead horse someone has to set the record straight.

      March 12, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. WRG001

    None of the failures of others mitigates Mr. Paterno's failure to act.

    March 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      Really, including Gary Schultz, who knew of both the 1998 and 2002 allegations and had regular meeting with Penn State Police? Including the AG who knew of allegations against Sandusky since 1998? Including the Second Mile, the charity where JS found his victims? They knew of the 1998 and the 2002 allegations and DID NOT STOP SANDUSKY FROM HAVING CONTACT WITH CHILDREN UNTIL 2008!

      Many of those BOT members are involved with Second Mile. They knew. Way more than Joe did. Cobett knew too. All of them. This was massive failure at epic levels, being directed towards the one person who did what he was supposed to (reported it up to his boss) and had the balls to say with hindsight he wished he would have done more. Now he is dead and they release another statement for no reason? The last time they releases the same garbage was on the day of the memorial service.

      March 12, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      Yeap, you are right. All of them should be fired or tried as accessories to the main crime.

      March 12, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Chad

    I think Paterno did what he thought was the right thing to do. He was in a no win situation. He got fired because they said he didn't do enough and if he would have contacted the Police, he probably would have been fired because he didn't follow policy procedures or basically going over everyones head. They used this man as a scape goat and the people who really should have been held accountable walk free. This University was everything to him and when they took that away, he really had nothing to live for. He died of a broken heart and betrayed by the ones he put his trust in.

    March 12, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      He knew sandusky was molesting little boys, and acted insufficiently. Its unfortunate our society values football over its most sacred citizens.

      March 12, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      So he picked his own success over the possibility of other children being harmed – which happened. If this happened to a High School coach you bet he would be fired if not put on trial.

      March 12, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Josh

    The prime point is that for all other issues, Coach Paterno had no real superior at Penn State. Football and everything involved with football (including the locker rooms and showers) were Coach Paterno's exclusive domain. He controlled it all, and controlled it with a firm, iron, fist.

    Coach Paterno clearly had a duty to handle this himself, that includes ensuring a full police investigation. While he could and should have told Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley too, Coach Paterno should have followed thru himself.

    Coach Paterno failed Penn State students, staff, and alumni.
    Coach Paterno failed all footballs players.
    Coach Paterno failed all the residents of PA.
    And most of all, Coach Paterno failed these young boys.

    That's Coach Paterno's ONLY legacy to be recorded in history. Unhappy? Take that up with the Coach.

    March 12, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • naji

      Thats the problem. You think a coach runs a college. U and people like you are soooooo blind. No coach is prepare for this. Especially an 80+ year old. He did what he was suppose to do and told his superiors. What did you want him to do? Hold a press conference and accuse a man of molestation based off the accusations of another grown man the next day? The real failure was the man who saw the molestation and didn't tell the police. He decided it would be smart to turn a criminal matter over to a coach. Real smart move by a college educated person. Pateno was a 3rd party in this situation. He was not a eye witness nor GOD. So chill out on cursing the dead man.

      March 12, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shawn L. Collins

      Well, yet another misinformed individual passing their judgment along. Say it isn't so. Have to agree with the other comment made...what else was he supposed to do, give up his first born too. Joe informed the next person in the chain/position of authority within the Athletic Department. That's what a person in his position does. Don't confuse his ability to influence others with his position of authority within the athletic department. Regardless of whether or not the person he informed isn't as well known as Joe Paterno, from my understanding that person was senior in authority....or was the next person in line to be informed. Joe informed that person...enough said. He didn't fail the the kid/victims; he didn't fail the college, he didn't fail the program; and he certainly didn't fail anyone else.

      March 12, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      He failed every children that was molested after he first learned of it. It doesn't matter 10000 people knew about it and no one done anything. EVERY one of those people have failed the children. Every single one. Had he went to the police and pushed for an investigation, and was denied by the police – I would have said he tried. If I see one of my department hires molest a child, or learn of it from a fellow employee, you bet I would take it up with the boss. If the boss did not contact the police I sure as hell would. If I get fired for it then so be it. I don't value my job more than I value my peace of mind.

      March 12, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • naji

      Then James you are gonna get some innocent people fired and cause yourself to get fire. Because if you are wrong you definitely are gonna be facing a slander suit.

      March 12, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Agamemnon

    All though I like Joe and he did more for the school than anyone this is a good justification for his dismissal. If I went to work one day and found a co-worker butt slamming a little kid I wouldn't just tell my boss and wash my hands of it...I'd CALL THE COPS!!.

    March 12, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Andy

    He was used as an escape goat. He did do his legal obligation and he was fired for that. Thats like following protocol and being fired for it.

    March 12, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. daveinla

    Is Paterno still dead? Why is this a story? The guy made a huge error in judgement and should of been fired.

    March 12, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. john

    Did I just go back in time three months?

    The BOT did what the media told them to do. Admitting that they only used what was presented in the grand jury testimony to make their decision only proves how spineless they were. There was not enough information from the GJ testimony to fire Paterno, but there sure was a lot of heat on them to do so.

    March 12, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Duane - St. Pete FLA

    WOW....that's the same reason we are going to fire OBAMA this November!!!! :o)

    March 12, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  12. gallagsc

    It is my opinion that the firing of Paterno ultimately led to his death. I am not a Penn St. fan or alumn, but this man deserved better then what went his way.

    That last time I checked, all of those young men are alive, and what happened to them was not at the hands of Joe Pa.

    Shame on those who critisize this deceased man. You are shallow.

    March 12, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      You miss the point, joepa while not the perpetrator was an enabler by not showing leadership and acting within his capacity as the head of that organization.

      March 12, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. steve

    Paterno Did the Right Thing!!!! He reported what he was told to is superior the very next day "remeber the inciedent and his being told of it both happened after the "the President, Board of Trustee"s and other Overpaid Do Nothing figure heads had gone home after hard days work "close of business.
    Had he called the police there would be nothing they could act on, because he DId Not See a Crime Being Commited.....
    At most he could offer is hearsay evidence.
    If Joe is guilty, then the All the Administration and All of the Board of Trustees that where there at that time are equally guilty and have all thier names thrown out into the publics eye and dragged through the mud accordingly....
    the Current Board and Administration were thru with Joe at the end of the season and had got everything of benefit they were ever gonna get out of him.... So why not throw him to wolves to draw attention away from themselves, many of whom , who were friends of sandusky's

    March 12, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      All the Nazi military officers just did what Hitler told them. They are innocent as well by your logic.

      March 12, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • naji

      Are you serious? So Paterno is comparible to a Nazi? Way too many people playing Monday Morning QB here. So Paterno was suppose to take the word over a guy he coached than a coworker and trusted pillar of the community. A man he's known for decades. And he was suppose to do it based off this story. " Hi coach. Im a 27 year old grown man (well known ex starting QB for Penn St.) and I saw Sandusky molesting a kid yesterday. I didn't call the police, I didnt beat him up, I didnt take the child from Sandusky. I just went home...talked to my dad...and decided to call you this morning. Now fix it 80+ year old guy."

      March 12, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ted Ward

    What was Coach Paterno to do, run the whole darn university by himself? A little help folks, please! Sounds like a total failure of TEAMWORK!!

    March 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. humtake

    Joe did everything right, by the book. He did not commit a crime. He did not witness a crime. If either one of those had been done, then yes, he is responsible. Because he heard of a crime, it is not his duty or responsibility to go rogue and start an investigation by cops into the school. That is a task for the school administrators.

    Joe got fired as a scapegoat from an issue that needed multiple scapegoats. That's all there is to it.

    March 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      Except he is the head of the department. He is precisely his duty to make sure his department is not doing anything wrong/illegal. Just as if you were a department head in real life and one of your group leaders was caught molesting children in the office and it turns out you first learned of it 8 years ago and did nothing, you sure as hell going to get sacked.

      March 12, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      And he went to HIS superiors.....who told hime they would handle it, while they did NOTHING!
      Why didn't McQueary do anything?
      He's still employes.
      Throw the old, sick coach WHO REPORTED IT, and reward the one WHO SAW IT AND DIDN"T ACT!

      Yeah, ok.

      March 12, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve

      yes he is the head of a department, and as head of the department, after he was told of Saduskies alleged "alleged as he himself did not see the reported crime" he the very next day reported it to his superior and immediatly barred sanduski from the Sports Complex <<<<the department he was in charge of... it was the job of his superiors to futhure investigate the crime......unless of course you think Joe should ran to the shower room got on his 80 year old hands and knees and crawled the showers from one end to the other collecting possible DNA evidence....

      March 13, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
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