Joe Paterno was fired by telephone last night by the Penn State Board of Trustees. His unprecedented career at Penn State spanned over 60 years, 46 as head coach.
Earlier yesterday, Paterno had announced his retirement, effective at the end of the current season. I was relieved that he would be able to make a dignified exit.
“I am disappointed with the Board of Trustees’ decision, but I have to accept it.” —Joe Paterno
What I didn’t realize at that time was that Paterno had made his retirement decision unilaterally, without even consulting with the president or the Board of Trustees, even though the BOT had announced earlier that it would be deciding on Paterno and Spanier’s fate at a meeting that same evening. Paterno hired a PR agency to couch his retirement statement, which was intended as a pre-emptive strike designed to obviate the need for BOT action on his case. As usual, he was making it clear that he would decide when it was time to go — he and no one else. In his statement, he even asserted that the board did not have to waste time deliberating on their decision about him as planned; their time would be better applied to more important matters.
If ever there was a way to sway trustees who were teetering on the brink of letting Paterno play out the season, this was it! His long history of defiance is well known in connection with the 2004 attempted firing fiasco. Spanier and Curley showed up at his door to dump him, and he sent them home with their tail between their legs. In Joe’s mind, it is his football program.
My first reaction to the immediate firing was anger. Why not let him finish as he wants to? With dignity?
That turned to sadness. Something that had been a big part of my life for the past 47 years was going away abruptly, and I wouldn’t even have time to adjust to it. I felt for Joe and Sue. I couldn’t fathom the hard-ass posture of the BOT.
Then, I thought of the victims of Sandusky’s alleged perverted activities and Joe’s inaction. I had always felt that Joe’s humanitarianism was above reproach. However, even he admitted that in retrospect, he should have handled things differently. Damn straight he should have! I felt that it was appropriate for others to be sent a message that no one is immune from being punished for making awful mistakes. General Patton, perhaps the greatest field commander ever, lost his command for having slapped one lowly GI. The court of public opinion did in both Paterno and Patton.
At last, I reluctantly accepted the BOT’s action. No matter whose idea the cover-up was, Paterno had gone along with it. People who rationalize that he was just following orders aren’t thinking straight. Joe, as demonstrated by his pre-emptive strike on the BOT, is his own man. Anyone who can defy the president and the BOT with respect to deciding the terms of his departure could have surely done the same with the victims in mind. Instead, he allowed Sandusky, who he knew to be a pervert, to continue with business as usual. That sort of benign neglect demands punishment.
I was content to know that Joe was not alone in being fired for inaction on the Sandusky case. President Graham Spanier was fired, too, or to couch it in the official language of the day, his resignation was accepted. I won’t dwell on that here, because this is a football blog. All I have to say is that the buck did indeed stop there.
I still can’t fathom why Paterno would leave a situation like this alone. But that is juice for him to stew in for the rest of his life. Perhaps, he will write a “tell all” book or appear in a “60 Minutes” interview some day and will let us all know what happened. Until then, or until ongoing investigations dig up all of the facts, we’re left to guess about what happened, filling in the details in our minds. Unfortunately, our minds can be lazy from time to time, so we allow those unknown details to be filled in by the national media. That ain’t good. They know as much as we know.
Joe Paterno was an accomplished hero not only on the football field but also in the arena of life. It is a shame that such a distinguished career has to end this way. I’m back to being sad, but I acknowledge the need for the change.
Joe was a part of me. This whole affair has sickened me. Joe’s legacy is tainted indelibly.
I think that I’ll close with an open letter written to Joe Paterno from former Nittany Lion lineman A.Q. Shipley, which captures how many of Joe’s present and former players feel about him:
Dear Coach Paterno,
It was an absolute honor when you gave me the opportunity, and it was just that, an opportunity to play for you at Penn State. You did not guarantee anything when you presented me with a scholarship except that you would be a teacher and a mentor and give me a chance to succeed athletically and academically! It was more than an honor to have been a captain on your 2008 Big Ten championship team and be a part of your program for 5 years. I came to PSU a boy and left a man due to the values you instilled in all of us. I learned so much from you in my years at Penn State that go so far beyond playing football. You have been a leader in the community for so many years and have touched the lives of so many people. I am proud to have played for you and to have received my degree from Penn State University and that is all because you gave me an opportunity. You are an amazing father, mentor, teacher, educator, coach and most importantly man. I guess the two most important words i need to say to you are Thank You.