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. Ted Ward

    The board is quite clearly now illustrating exactly the craven behavior that allowed this whole mess to occur in the first place. Little hope, then, going forward that the situation will change and a proper preventative solution be implemented. Still at this late date leadership is lacking where it is most needed. If the board finds itself incapable of stepping up and addressing the situation in a clear unflinching way, then they should step down.

    March 13, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bob

    And if he had called police, he would have been fired for taking matters into his own hands instead of going through proper channels. They're just looking for a scapegoat.

    March 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • whoKnew....

      why isnt Mike McQuery in trouble for not calling the police??

      March 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff


      March 21, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      I agree with Bob. I am a Penn State alum with 2 degrees from the Unioversity. I love Penn State and always will. What happened to the victims of this terrible tragedy is unthinkable. But Joe Patereno didn't do it and it's questionable that any actions he could have taken would have changed events at all. The Penn State trustees fired Joe Paterno as an "expedient;" they can now claim to have "acted quickly." By doing this, the trustees killed Joe Paterno as certainly as if they had fired a bullet into his heart. If any of them have consciences - which is highly doubtful - I hope they are haunted by them for the rest of their lives.

      April 1, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. numb

    I am pretty disgusted that Paterno knew what sandusky did & yet worked with him every day planning football strategy. How could anyone work with sandusky knowing what he did? How could you look him in the face? Just by doing that the message to sick sandusky was we know what you did, but it's ok because your football knowledge is more important to us than some little boy. Gross! Immoral! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 16, 2012 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
  4. robert karder

    concerning joe paterons passing . joe was killed via authorities at penn state . why hasn't anybody the jumtion to file a wrongful death investigation against the college in the interests of justice . football and the atributes that it supposedly inculcates encludes courage and forthrightness . joes passing was most convenient and comfortable for the occassion . when penn state was consistantly number one and gate revenues where tops . not one rumor of impropriety was ever voiced or heard . with the falling off of status and revenue joe had to go . stated simply joe was killed or wrongfully assisted to his death . murder none the less . find and prosecute his killers.

    March 19, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  5. lbh44lbh


    I really enjoyed reading this blog post on the story about one of my all time favorite coach's. I feel that the way that Penn State's board handled this situation was ethically wrong from a communications stand point. They were unclear on the reasons for the termination. They did not use any ethical standards in communication with JoePa in this situation and that is where I felt it was unprofessional. I feel that the board made a rush decision and didn't take into account all aspects of the situation. I felt that JoePa did was was ethically right and passed on the information to his higher authority and did not deserve the punishment and shame that he was dealt. Very good post I enjoyed it.

    Brett Henderson
    Communications Graduate Student
    Drury University

    April 15, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
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