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."