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Joe Paterno

November 9, 2011 by staff 

Joe Paterno, Joe Paterno announces retirement, says sex-abuse case a tragedy and wishes he had done more. Paterno has been besieged by criticism since former defensive coordinator and one-time heir apparent Jerry Sandusky was charged over the weekend with molesting eight young boys between 1994 and 2009. Athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with failing to notify authorities after an eyewitness reported a 2002 assault.

Paterno decided to retire at age 84, in the middle of his 46th season with the Nittany Lions. He won 409 games, a record for major college football, but now, the grandfatherly coach known as “Joe Pa,” who had painstakingly burnished a reputation for winning “the right way,” leaves the only school he’s ever coached in disgrace.

Paterno has not been accused of legal wrongdoing. But he has been assailed, in what the state police commissioner called a lapse of “moral responsibility,” for not doing more to stop Sandusky.

He has been questioned over his apparent failure to follow up on a report of the 2002 incident, in which Sandusky allegedly sodomized a 10-year-old boy in the showers at the team’s football complex. A witness, Mike McQueary, is currently receivers coach for the team but was a graduate assistant at the time.

Paterno told the athletic director, Tim Curley, who has since stepped down and has charged with lying to the state grand jury investigating the case. The Penn State vice president has also been charged, and the university president could follow.

But in the place known as Happy Valley, none held the same status as Paterno. And in the end, he could not withstand the backlash from a scandal that goes well beyond the everyday stories of corruption in college sports.

“If this is true we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families,” Paterno said Sunday, after the news broke, in a prepared statement. “They are in our prayers.”

The coach defended his decision to take the news to his athletic director. Paterno said it was obvious that the graduate student was “distraught,” but said the graduate student did not tell him about the “very specific actions” in the grand jury report.

After Paterno reported the incident to Curley, Sandusky was told to stay away from the school, but critics say the coach should have done more — tried to identify and help the victim, for example, or alerted authorities.

“Here we are again,” John Salveson, former president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in an interview earlier this week. “When an institution discovers abuse of a kid, their first reaction was to protect the reputation of the institution and the perpetrator.”

Paterno’s requirement that his players not just achieve success but adhere to a moral code, that they win with honor, transcended his sport. Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke basketball coach, said in June for an ESPN special on Paterno: “Values are never compromised. That’s the bottom line.”

His sudden departure leaves both his fans and detractors to ask who the real “Joe Pa” was.

Was he a gentle once-in-a-lifetime leader with a knack for molding champions?

Or was he simply another gridiron pragmatist, a detached football CEO, his sense of right and wrong diluted by decades of coddling from “yes” men paid to make his problems disappear.

It will be a debate for years, and history will decide whether the enduring image will be that of Paterno surrounded by all those reporters as he hurried to practice this week, or his signature look on the sidelines.

Rolled-up khakis. Jet-black sneakers. Smoky, thick glasses. That famous Brooklyn accent that came off only as whiny as he wanted it to be.

“Deep down, I feel I’ve had an impact. I don’t feel I’ve wasted my career,” Paterno once said. “If I did, I would have gotten out a long time ago.”

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