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Penn State: In Sandusky’s Wake, What a Difference a Year Makes

by on June 22, 2012 5:58 AM

On June 20, 2011, two legendary college coaches were in Eisenhower Auditorium, taping a television special for ESPN before a packed house.

The show was called, “Difference Makers: Life Lessons with Paterno & Krzyzewski.”

On June 20, 2012, Jerry Sandusky’s attorneys were presenting their final arguments that Sandusky was innocent of four dozen charges of child sex abuse. They pleaded that Sandusky, the founder of The Second Mile, was a difference maker. In a good way.

The prosecution said the former coach was a difference maker all right – in just about the worse way inhumanly possible.

What a difference year makes.

On June 19 last year, I postulated that the majority of the Penn State hierarchy would be gone – as in retired – by the time the Penn State-Pitt football series resumed five years hence.

As it turned out, most of them didn’t even last five months.

The group included Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, Rod Erickson, Steve Garban and Tom Bradley, as well as the rest of the Penn State football coaching staff. Gary Schultz, who had retired but came back to PSU on an interim basis as a high-level Old Main executive, was a short-timer even 12 months ago.

At the time, it looked like the most likely person to leave first was Erickson, the provost at the time, with Paterno in the mix – although publicly Paterno said he planned on sticking around for awhile longer, even though he was 85.

Now, Erickson is the president of Penn State and the only one left, although Garban – chairman of the Board of Trustees a year ago – remains on the BOT but is essentially powerless.

A year ago:

Paterno was publicly professing that he could coach “four-five years.” But people at the upper levels of Penn State say he was planning since early 2011 on retiring at the end of the season, and plans were in place for that to occur, including the hiring of his successor (i.e., Urban Meyer).

Now, we all know of the sad ending of a career and a life that featured a major-college record 409 victories, achieved on Oct. 29 in what turned out to be the final game of his storied 62-year career. He was fired Nov. 9, announced he had lung cancer on Nov. 18 and died Jan. 22 – 14 weeks after coaching his final game.

Graham Spanier, Penn State’s president, was in the second year of a three-year contract extension that would have kept him in the job until at least 2015. At that point, Spanier would’ve been 66 and at Penn State for 20 years, with the school’s $2 billion capital campaign having just been completed.

Now, Spanier is no longer president but remains as a tenured faculty member. Until he was fired, Spanier was chair of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) Presidential Oversight Board. He no doubt would have had a key role in the development of a BCS playoff system. But it looks likely he may be charged with some crimes in relation to the Sandusky scandal, if what has apparently been leaked from the forthcoming Freeh report is true.

Tim Curley, Penn State’s athletic director, and at one time an off-the-field assistant to Paterno, was set to receive a national honor from the National Football Foundation for "superior administrative abilities and shown outstanding dedication to college athletics and particularly college football."

The NFF withdrew the award after Curley was charged with perjury and failure to report in conjunction with the scandal.

Now, Curley has been on leave for more than seven months, is fighting challenges both personal and legal, and will very likely never return to his old post. He is set to go on trial later this year.

Last June, Erickson was provost, the chief academic executive at Penn State. And, by all accounts, he was a strong, steady and moral leader.

Now, he is the university’s 17th president, with promises to stay in the position until 2014, when Penn State is in a better position.

Now, Schultz is gone, back into retirement but – like Curley – facing a court date.

Now, Bradley and Jay Paterno, both of whom accorded themselves exceedingly well last November, December and through the bowl game, are in a limbo of sorts. They are making public appearances, always positive about Penn State. And, believe it or not, are just as positive about Penn State in private conversations.

Now, the Sandusky trial is nearly over. This June is a lifetime and more removed from last June.

Difference makers?

That, forever, will have a different meaning.

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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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