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Penn State Football: Joe Paterno Fired; Bradley to be Interim Head Coach

by on November 09, 2011 11:54 PM

Joe Paterno resigned as Penn State's head football coach at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, thinking he would lead the squad through the end of the 2011 season.

He had hoped a self-imposed departure would atone for some admitted moral failures and buy him some time to coach at least three, probably four and possibly even five more games until stepping down.

But it was too late. For Paterno, time had already run out.

It took another 12 hours, but by day's end one America's most famous coaches learned he was no longer a coach. He was fired.

So, after 61 seasons as a Penn State football coach – the last 45.67 as head coach -- Paterno’s legendary career at Penn State is over.

And he has only himself to blame.

When told in 2002 by a first-person observer of heinous actions made by a former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, involving a child in Penn State football's Lasch Building, Paterno did the very bare legal minimum. He told his boss, athletic director Tim Curley.

Beyond that, Paterno did nothing.

So Sandusky -- it is charged -- continued his horrid serial behavior, molesting and sexually abusing young boys. Police were not called. And Sandusky was still welcome in the PSU football weight room and elsewhere, as long as he didn't bring any kids. Paterno turned a blind eye.

It took nearly a decade and the threat of losing his job as head football coach -- the core of his being -- for Paterno to look inward and take responsibility for his inaction, his indifference.

So, finally, on Wednesday morning, Paterno issued a press release that said, in part, "This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.

“...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.”

The board thought otherwise. Paterno’s final attempt to dictate policy, and manage his departure from Penn State, ultimately failed. In a rowdy press conference at The Penn State Conference Center Hotel, board Vice Chairman John P. Surma announced that Paterno – and Penn State President Graham Spanier – were fired, effectively immediately.

"Penn State has always strived to have the highest moral, ethical and legal responsibilities," said Surma, chairman and CEO of U.S Steel Corp.

About two hours after Surma announced that Paterno was fired, the now ex-Penn State football coach issued this statement:

"I am disappointed with the Board of Trustees' decision, but I have to accept it. A tragedy occurred, and we all have to have patience to let the legal process proceed.

"I appreciate the outpouring of support but I want to emphasize that everyone should remain calm and please respect the university, its property and all that we value. I have been incredibly blessed to spend my entire career working with people I love.

"I am grateful beyond words to all of the coaches, players and staff who have been part of this program. And to all of our fans and supporters, my family and I will be forever in your debt."

BRADLEY INTERIM HEAD COACH

Longtime assistant coach and current defensive coordinator Tom Bradley was named as the team’s interim coach, effectively immediately.

That means Bradley will be in charge when 12th-ranked Penn State, which is 8-1 overall and 5-0 in the Big Ten, hosts No. 19 Nebraska in Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

Bradley, a gritty special teams player at Penn State – hence, his nickname of “Scrap” – has been a PSU assistant for 33 years. In an ironic, and somewhat chilling turn of events, Bradley ascended to defensive coordinator when his predecessor, Jerry Sandusky, retired after the 1999 season.

The run of recent events that ended in the firing of Paterno began on Saturday, when Sandusky was charged with 40 counts of sexual child abuse.

A grand jury report indicated that Paterno was told of some the charges in 2002 by assistant coach Mike McQueary, who saw Sandusky molesting a young boy in the showers of the Penn State football locker room.

And although the Attorney General said that Paterno acted legally in reporting what McQueary’s saw to athletic Curley (since charged with perjury and failure to report child abuse), there was been a firestorm of criticism that Paterno could have and should have done more morally.

Nationally, Paterno's inaction put him -- and Penn State and Penn State football and athletics -- under a microscope. America didn't like what it saw.

Neither did the Board of Trustees, and it axed both Paterno and Spanier.

Surma said that Paterno’s son Jay, the team’s quarterbacks coach, and McQueary, the team’s receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, would remain in their jobs for the time being.

“It’s a sad day,” Chris Fowler, host of ESPN’s College GameDay program, said on the network. “We saw an icon fall in the worst possible way.

Fowler, who lived in State College for several years when his father was a professor at Penn State, said the sight of Paterno in Beaver Stadium on Saturday would have sent the wrong message.

“The board could only have imagined and visualized what would have happened Saturday in a full Beaver Stadium,” Fowler said. “Paterno would have likely been carried off the field, not something the board could even allow.”

Penn State was the only employer Paterno had ever known. He came to Penn State in 1950 as a fresh grad out of Brown, before there was an official postal designation called University Park. And he leaves as the most successful college football coach ever, with his own eponymous stadium-side encampment called Paternoville.

The 84-year-old Hall of Famer got his major college football-record 409th victory on Oct. 29, in a 10-7 victory over Illinois in Beaver Stadium – a game the Nittany Lions won when Illinois’ final-second field goal bounced off the goal post.

His career record is 409-136-3, with two national championships, in 1982 and 1986. Of his victories, 231 came in Beaver Stadium.

There will not be a No. 232.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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