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Paterno, Spanier out at Penn State; Riot Develops in State College

on November 10, 2011 4:54 AM

Penn State President Graham Spanier and longtime head football Coach Joe Paterno have departed from their respective roles at the university -- effective immediately, trustees board Vice Chairman John Surma announced Wednesday night.

The trustees and Spanier decided together on Spanier's departure, Surma said in a news conference at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. As for Paterno, according to a prepared statement, the "board determined that it is in the best interest of the university for Joe Paterno to no longer serve as head football coach, effective immediately."

The 32-member board's decision concerning Paterno was unanimous, Surma said.

"Penn State has always strived for honesty, integrity and the highest moral standards in all of our activities," Surma said. "We promise you that we are committed to restoring public trust to our university."

Full video of the news conference is available via YouTube.

Board members have named Rodney A. Erickson, the executive vice president and provost, as the interim president. They named assistant football coach Tom Bradley as the interim head football coach.

Surma said the board reached its decisions Wednesday evening and advised Paterno by phone of its conclusion. Paterno soon released a statement indicating disappointment in the board action, but added that he must accept it, according to ESPN. (Earlier in the day, the now-former coach had indicated plans to work through season's end. He became head coach at Penn State in 1966.)

"A tragedy occurred, and we all have to have patience to let the legal process proceed," Paterno said in the statement. "I appreciate the outpouring of support but want to emphasize that everyone should remain calm and please respect the university, its property and all that we value."

The full text of Paterno's statement is posted here.

Thousands of Penn State students, reacting to the news from the trustees, rioted late Wednesday night in downtown State College. The riot -- perhaps the biggest in State College history -- stretched for blocks, flooding East Beaver Avenue between South Garner Street and South Pugh Street before shifting to other parts of town and campus.

Many rioters yelled, alternately, "We want Joe"; "(Expletive) the trustees"; "(Expletive) the media"; "One more game"; and "We are Penn State," among other chants. Police ordered a dispersal order for the downtown and the Old Main lawn shortly after midnight, though disturbances continued well into the wee hours. Most had eased by about 2:30 a.m.

Police used pepper spray and tear gas in some instances, according to WJAC TV. At one point, a vehicle -- a WTAJ TV news van -- was overturned. Fireworks, toilet paper, giant handwritten signs and projectiles all appeared. (See video of some disturbances on this page. Tweets about the disturbances were posted via @OnwardState, @DailyCollegian and @SCNewsDesk.)

Some students also marched to the Paterno family home in College Heights, among other landmarks. At the Paterno home, Joe and Sue Paterno emerged briefly, thanked the students and encouraged them to rest up and study. 

The departures of Spanier and Paterno come amid very recent criminal charges against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and two top administrators: athletics director Tim Curley and Senior Vice President Gary Schultz.

Sandusky is accused in an alleged pattern of child sexual abuse spanning more than a decade. Prosecutors have said Curley and Schultz lied to a grand jury during the jury's investigation of Sandusky. The two administrators also failed earlier to report sexual-misconduct concerns to authorities, according to the state attorney general's office.

Attorneys for Curley and Schultz have said their clients are innocent. Sandusky has maintained his innocence, as well, according to his attorney.

Spanier and Paterno have not been charged criminally, though the men are mentioned in a grand-jury report. Paterno was told in 2002 of a sexual incident involving Sandusky and a 10-year-old boy, then passed the information to his superiors, according to authorities.

Later, Spanier signed off on a ban that limited Sandusky's ability to bring children into a university football building, according to a report from state Attorney General Linda Kelly. But he did not inquire about it further, she has said.

Some Penn State students held a vigil Wednesday night for Sandusky's alleged victims, according to student reports on Twitter. It appears to have been held at the Nittany Lion Shrine.

Surma, speaking Wednesday night, said the grave "difficulties that have engulfed our university" necessitated the leadership change and a new direction for Penn State.

"We had to do what we thought is the right thing to do in the circumstances," Surma said. He hopes that students -- and others -- will see that the board's decisions are in their best interests and in the best interests of the university as a whole, he said.

Surma also reiterated the board's plan to initiate its own investigation through a special committee. Penn State will cooperate with any investigations initiated by outside agencies, he said.

In a written statement, Spanier, the university president for 16 years, said claims filed by the attorney general describe "acts that should never be tolerated or ignored.

"I was stunned and outraged to learn that any predatory act might have occurred in a university facility or by someone associated with the university," he said. "I am heartbroken to think that any child may have been hurt and have deep convictions about the need to protect children and youth. My heartfelt sympathies go out to all those who may have been victimized. I would never hesitate to report a crime if I had any suspicion that one had been committed."

His statement goes on: "The acts of no one person should define this university. Penn State is defined by the traditions, loyalty and integrity of hundreds of thousands of students, alumni and employees."

Spanier said that a change in leadership will yield "no distractions in allowing the university to move forward."

"This university is a large and complex institution, and although I have always acted honorably and in the best interests of the university, the buck stops here," he went on. "In this situation, I believe it is in the best interests of the university to give my successor a clear path for resolving the issues before us."

The full text of Spanier's statement is posted here.

Neither he nor Paterno was present at the news conference where Surma spoke. Surma was joined before the press by board Chairman Steve Garban and what appeared to be the entire university board -- or most board members, at the least. will have ongoing coverage in the days and weeks to come. All earlier related and ongoing coverage is posted via a page linked below.

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