After Paterno Announcement

November 10, 2011 by staff 

After Paterno Announcement, In the end, Joe Paterno left it to others to do the right thing, He said he wanted to finish with “dignity and determination.”  And yet, sadly, Joe Paterno failed to do even that in his last, desperate act as Penn State’s football coach, forced out by the university’s Board of Trustees on Wednesday night because he refused to leave on his own.

Oh, sure, Paterno announced his retirement earlier in the day in the wake of a child sex-abuse scandal that has engulfed the storied football legend he created and the university he so dearly loves and the sport in which he has become an iconic figure.

But he said he’d retire at the end of the season, not immediately. And if Paterno’s statement read at the time like a preemptive move — a plea agreement of a different kind after the indictment of his former longtime assistant, Jerry Sandusky, also revealed the moral failings of the coach, one of his assistants and other top administrators — well, that’s because it was.

The trustees exited an emergency meeting Wednesday night in State College, Pa., and for the first time since this story started unraveling in appalling detail over the weekend, someone finally did the right thing. For the first time in ages, someone at Penn State finally told Paterno what to do.

“These decisions were made after careful deliberations, and in the best interests of the university as a whole,” said John P. Surma, the board’s vice chairman, in announcing both the resignation of university president Graham Spanier and Paterno’s dismissal at a contentious news conference. “Penn State has always strived for honesty, integrity and the highest moral standards in all of our activities. We promise you that we are committed to restoring the public trust to our university.”

The twisted, embarrassing scene that followed that announcement — students gathering en masse on campus to protest, climbing lampposts, chanting Paterno’s name, and eventually growing more destructive — was all but promised by Paterno’s stubbornness. Hell, no, Joe wouldn’t go.

No matter how heartfelt some of the 186 words contained in the coach’s initial statement were Wednesday morning, knowing what we know now about what he and others have known for so many sickening years, it was hard to read it as anything other than Paterno’s final attempt at showing who’s boss in the Happy Valley kingdom he built.

“I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care,” Paterno’s statement read. “I have the same goal today. That’s why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season.

“At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.”

The irony in that was rich coming from Paterno, who’d rebuffed previous attempts from some of those same trustees — and Spanier as well — to get him to retire before it was too late, most notably in 2004.

Now, a month shy of his 85th birthday and five days into one of the worst scandals in NCAA history, Paterno was trying to make it “easy” for those seeking to end his reign? By doing what many expected him to do — retiring when his contract expired at season’s end — even before last Saturday’s grand jury report shocked the nation and put Penn State’s cozy campus on riot alert?

No, the truth is Paterno, who was in tears as he told his players of his plans Wednesday morning, always was the one who got off easy, especially in the endless twilight of his remarkable career. And in the end, it was obvious someone else would have to make the hard decision for Paterno, at least if the university’s administration — or what’s left of it, anyway — is to be taken at its word going forward.

“We are outraged that a valued trust has been broken,” acting athletic director Mark Sherburne said in a statement Wednesday — the first one from the university that didn’t sound completely tone deaf. “We can promise you that we are doing everything in our power to restore that broken trust.”

Those words would’ve been rendered meaningless by Paterno’s presence on the sidelines or in the press box as the Nittany Lions’ coach at Penn State’s final home game Saturday. Or in the weeks that’ll follow, with the team possibly headed for the Big Ten Championship game and a January bowl.

Do Penn State’s current players, young men who revere their great, grandfatherly coach, deserve a better fate in all this? Sure. But there’s a lesson to be learned in that, too, isn’t there? Don’t coaches frequently punish teams to prove a point about the consequences of individuals’ mistakes?

This couldn’t be about sticking around for Senior Day or finishing what he started. Paterno, for all his talk of “Success With Honor” and despite the evidence to back it up, forfeited the right to make that call when he abdicated the most basic responsibilities of his job a decade or more ago.

That it took us all this long to understand that is only thanks to his own inaction, along with that of his athletic director, Tim Curley — he’s one of Paterno’s former players, by the way — and fellow administrator Gary Schultz, both of whom are charged with perjury and failure to report to authorities what they knew of Sandusky’s alleged deviant behavior.

Ugly messages
And it wasn’t just about the optics — as the public-relations people like to say — of what we’d see Saturday, with a still-muzzled Paterno leading his team onto the field and the crowd of 100,000-plus at Beaver Stadium cheering him one last time.

No, it’s about the message Paterno’s continued employment would’ve sent about accountability and leadership and a culture in major college athletics that sets the standard for participation at a criminally low standard.

It’s about Mike McQueary remaining on the sidelines both as the receivers coach and Penn State’s recruiting coordinator. Shurma indicated Wednesday night that McQueary’s status remained unchanged. But how do you allow that after the former graduate assistant testified he’d witnessed Sandusky raping a young boy and yet reportedly did nothing more than tell his boss, even as an alleged cover-up in the years since allowed Sandusky to remain attached to the program?

And if this retirement went forward as Paterno planned, allowing him to take one final bow before the home crowd Saturday — among a handful of uncomfortable curtain calls before season’s end — what kind of statement would that have made about the meaning of that chant, “We Are … Penn State?”

How could that be allowed to happen by anyone in charge at that university, knowing now the horrors and taking note of the implications the timeline presents in the grand jury’s findings?

Simply put, this wasn’t about football anymore. It couldn’t be.

“This is a tragedy,” Paterno said in his statement Wednesday. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.

“My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination. And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this University.”

I’ve got a better idea for Joe Pa. He should spend the rest of his life doing everything he can to help Sandusky’s alleged victims, a list that’s reportedly growing daily as more come forward to authorities. He should spend his time and use his outsized profile — however damaged it may be by all of this — to help raise awareness about child abuse. He should spend the rest of his life helping raise money for advocacy groups that do the same.

And he should start doing all of that immediately, now that he’s no longer a football coach.

That would be the dignified thing to do.

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