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. Jon

    Ah, because they were such leaders themselves? Or, was it the old "let's kick someone when he's down to save our organization"?

    March 12, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Voice of Reason

      Yes because when the scandal came out JoePa was so down right? Come on he didnt live up to his own standard and that is what it sounds like Penn State Board used against him. He was always saying that it's never right just to do the minimum and to take responsibility for every action. He had a chance to say i screwed up but didnt immediately do it either.

      March 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  2. dirty harry

    I think trustees can be voted out. But its all about public perception and CYA in terms of actions by the Board. From a spin-doctor perspective, firing was the onlyoption. Just come up with a justification to fire no matter how lame. Put yourself in a head coach position and wear his shoes...tons of challenges and tasks come up everyday...you make your call that day and get back to the other pile of priorities stacking up on your desk. Sandusky is not even an employee under Paterno at this time. We expect Paterno to fight a bureacracy like he is Don Quixote of La Mancha? All this hindsight, in retrospect "He should have done this" I doubt the Ivory Tower naysayer's could have done any better.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. POD

    Maybe the 'graduate assistant' should have stopped the abuse immediately, subdued Sandusky and called the police....that is what a man would do!

    March 12, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • lance corporal

      dammmmm right!

      March 12, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I still question why he didn't stop it...

      March 12, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • RoamingWilderness

      Sandusky was apparently naked at the time. Not exactly a situation that a third party would want to get physically involved with.

      March 12, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. James PDX

    No doubt if Paterno had gone straight to the police without notifying his superiors at the college, they would have fired him for that instead. Everyone wants a scapegoat.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Roy

      ...and so he would have been a hero. All he thought about was himself. He was a coward.

      March 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Barb

    Coah Paterno failed to fullfill his legal and moral responsibility. That is really all there is to it.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • B

      Maybe morally, but he did fulfill his legal responsibility.

      March 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. lance corporal

    and if the "trustees" of the catholic church (the bishops) responded in this way abuse would have stopped long ago.
    I don't care how beloved paterno was this was a failure in leadership for sure but moreover a failure of RESPONSIBILITY to the young people in and influenced by the sports programs at/on the university.
    what bugs me is that first ass't coach..... he should have a) called police IMMEDIATELY and b) kicked sandusky's a– on the spot......and the sad part is that is probably exactly what would have happened if he saw a girl being RAP ED (which is what it was) our discomfort with se x gets in our way

    March 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sharon

    Nice they decided to state how they felt after he's gone and can't rebutal their remarks.
    Then they fired Spanier because he said too much? Seems like these guys were damned if the do, damned if they don't.
    The only one not getting any press from these clowns that call themselves the "Board" is Sandusky.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      You're right...and I wonder why the board *is* silent when it comes to Sandusky...

      March 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mike

    Too bad some can't seem to take Joe Paterno at his word when he said "I wish I had done more." From the moment the scandal broke until he died he emphasized what a great career he had at Penn State and his concern for the victims. Unfortunately, it seems like many people continue to think that the way a multi-millionaire who got to keep his job for 60 years and do exactly what he wanted in life got fired is more important than the safety of children. The Board did exactly the correct thing in firing Paterno and Spanier. If more people are discovered to have known, they will have to go too. The Penn State Board has set a high standard for protecting children, one that will fall upon any of them if any of them knew also.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sharon

      I wonder just how many of the BOARD knew. . . . things are never kept THAT quiet.

      March 12, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yes1fan

      FYI, the Grand Jury concluded that Paterno was NOT one of those "discovered to have known".

      March 12, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tim

    Sandusky scored...but Paterno got the several assists.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. me@home

    I've got some problems here. First off, "the Board reasonably inferred that he did not call police". Hold on there a second. He requested that the police be involved (that came out during the Grand Jury deposition, which was before the PSU Board of Trustees decided to terminate Paterno). In fact the only person that the Grand Jury castigated for failing to show appropriate moral leadership was McQueary, Curley, and Schultz. I can't excuse McQueary, but I can understand the position he was in. The other two? Not so much.

    Next problem. "The board fired Penn State President Graham Spanier along with Paterno." Really? Spanier was permitted to retire, offered his resignation and had it accepted by the board. They did not officially fire him (in fact, they don't even list him as a former employee, only that Spanier is presently on sabbatical). They did fire Paterno.

    Paterno is not innocent, but he's not the villian that others have been in this. It galls me to see the re-write of history that PSU leadership is presently undertaking.

    Shall I assume that since Spanier provided a debrief, and they did nothing about it, that the Board of Trustees will be resigning as well? Didn't think so.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ja

    I question this man coaching at eighty-five, with all due respect, there is a time and season for all things, could nobody else have done the job twenty years ago, the trustees are liable also

    March 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. a slozomby

    sure throw the dead guy under the bus. noone will notice..........

    March 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kelly

    Bull puckys. Penn wanted to distance themselves from the situation and they threw Joe under the the bus. If they were truly concerned about 'leadership' and the integrity of the university's image the pedophile in their employ would have been out of a job and outed in the media with some rightous outrage and apologies to the victims for his crimes years before any of this took place. They were far more concerned about their own culpability and liability to put those kids first and how dare they try to hide behind the smoke screen they created with his firing. Pennsylvannians should be ashamed of their universities attempted deflection tactics. PERIOD.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I am inclined to agree with you.

      March 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ForGoodOfAll

    He deserved it. He even said that he was sorry for not doing more. These victims were children! Shame on him and too bad about his tarnished legacy.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dawn

    Maybe PSU Board of Trustees can do the same thing with Obama and his failure to lead.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • purnellmeagrejr

      Maybe you can react to the article rather than posting an off-topic knee jerk respone (without the knee.)

      March 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • ComSenseWiz

      Maybe dense heads like you could not expose your stupidity with clueless, unrelated verbal diarrhea.

      March 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • teamroper

      I want to like Dawn's comment many, many times.

      March 12, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • David B

      Typical conservative who does not know how to read an article. Maybe we should put Dawn into Bush's Dumb war and Kill more innocent people.

      March 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dawn

      Hey David B – So 4 years later we're still blaming Bush even though it was promised (empty campaign promises of course) by your current illustrious leader that he would end both wars. Hmm, I'd call you a typical liberal spewing nothing but hypocrisy all borne out of jealousy.

      March 12, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • lolarites

      Well, Dawn honey, you had better prepare yourself, because you are going to get four more years of your perceived failed leadership.

      March 12, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheLord

      Get on your hands and knees and pray for a miracle, thats what you boys in banjo country believe is what is needed right? It's all Obama's fault? Lol, hick.

      March 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dawn

      Just more hypocrisy. Sad how all of you "tolerant liberals" do nothing but call people names and put labels on them, i.e., "hick" (oh, I'm so offended, not!). I am neither from "banjo country", nor am I a hick, nor am I some religious conservative zealot. I simply observed this President's failure to lead. Sorry it's such a sensitive topic. If he's accomplished so much, then why isn't he running on his successes instead of drumming up the good 'ol standby "rich vs. poor" and controversy over birth control. It is so obvious.

      March 12, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      OBAMA is stirring up controversy about birth control?
      Lol.
      Yeah, OK.

      Bush was a leader, all right.
      He led us right into the two wars that you are accusing Obama of not ending...lol.

      March 12, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dawn

      banasy© – I never said Bush was a leader. If you think Sandra Fluke wasn't intentionally brought into this picture to divert America's attention from the facts of what this President has done or not done, you are a fool. If you do your homework, you'll see Sandra Fluke has very close ties to this White House. It isn't just a "fluke" (pun intended). Look it up.

      March 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Okey dokey, Dawnie.
      Whatever you say.

      March 12, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
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