Citing “new and continuing business commitments”, U.S. Steel chairman and chief executive officer John Surma declared that he would cease to be a Penn State trustee in June. Yeah, this one was greeted with great shrieks of delight from BoT haters around the country. Why? Primarily because Surma was vice-chairman of the Board of Trustees when the Sandusky scandal broke, and he was the man who effected Joe Paterno’s denouement. To be fair, he was the point man; the actual decision was above his pay grade. Sure, as CEO of U.S. Steel, he could make the decision to fire his head coach, assuming that Big Steel had a football team, but in this case, it was a collaborative decision to fire Paterno. However, even though many agree that it had to be done, the manner in which it was handled was a major factor in fomenting hatred for the BoT in the hearts of alumni.
To refresh your memory, here’s how the firing was done. The BoT enlisted Fran Ganter, then an employee of the Penn State athletic department and formerly assistant head coach and offensive coordinator of the football team, to hand-deliver a message to the Paterno house during the after-dinner hours. The written message was a phone number that Joe was directed to call. When he did, it was Surma who answered and delivered a succinct message to the effect that Paterno was no longer an employee of Penn State University. Classy, eh?
Is it any wonder why alums hate Surma? Well, now, in words last famously uttered by Richard M. Nixon after his defeat by Pat Brown, they won’t have John Surma to kick around anymore. He joins the similarly hated Chairman Karen Peetz in expressing the intention to leave a much maligned (deservedly) Board of Trustees in the past couple of months. Peetz stepped down as Chairman.
About Surma, current Chairman Keith Masser graciously, albeit incorrectly, stated, “Our community owes a significant debt of gratitude to John Surma and his family.” I don’t know which community Masser is talking about, but I owe Surma nothing. He could have handled the whole thing with the class Joe Paterno’s service to the university merited, but he let himself be sucked into the emotional vacuum stoked by the rapidity of events following the Sandusky revelations.