STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno says he ‘‘didn’t know which way to go’’ after an assistant coach came to him in 2002 saying he had seen retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually abusing a boy.
In his first public comments since being fired two months ago, Paterno told The Washington Post that assistant Mike McQueary ‘‘didn’t want to get specific’’ about details in his 2002 allegation involving Sandusky, who he claimed was showering with a boy in the Penn State football facility.
The Post reported Saturday that Paterno was hesitant to make follow-up calls because he didn’t want to be seen as trying to exert influence for or against Sandusky.
‘‘I didn’t know which way to go ... And rather than get in there and make a mistake,’’ he told the Post before trailing off.
A day after he heard McQueary’s allegation, Paterno reported it to his superiors. Before McQueary visited him, Paterno said he had ‘‘no inkling’’ Sandusky might be a child molester.
Sandusky was criminally charged on Nov. 5 and faces dozens of counts. Paterno was ousted four days later after 46 years as head coach.
Paterno, 85, also is fighting lung cancer diagnosed days after his dismissal. He was re-admitted to the hospital Friday for observation for what his family called a minor complication from treatments. He has been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.
His condition improved Saturday morning, the Post reported. Messages left by The Associated Press for family representatives were not immediately returned.
The Post portrayed Paterno as frail from the cancer treatments and wearing a wig. Also recovering from a broken pelvis, Paterno spoke Thursday from a wheelchair at kitchen table.
He said he was initially reluctant to speak because ‘‘I wanted everybody to settle down,’’ but the Post reported Paterno was so eager to defend his record that he insisted on continuing the interview from his bedside Friday morning, though ill.Paterno, who testified before a grand jury investigating Sandusky, is not a target of the criminal probe.
But his firing came as criticism mounted on Paterno and other Penn State leaders that the 2002 allegation should have been reported to authorities outside of Penn State.
The 67-year-old Sandusky is charged with sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. He remains out on $250,000 bail while awaiting trial.
If Sandusky is guilty, ‘‘I'm sick about it,’’ Paterno said.
Paterno said he wished he knew how allegations against Sandusky didn’t come to light until this year. ‘‘I don’t know the answer to that,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s hard.’’
In recent weeks, Paterno’s dismissal itself has come under question from many former players and alumni wondering about the motivations of trustees.
Others are roiled by a perceived lack of communication by trustees and President Rodney Erickson during a period when the school has promised to be more open and transparent. Many alumni who attended town hall meetings in Pittsburgh, suburban Philadelphia and New York this week questioned why Paterno, after 61 years of service to the school, wasn’t afforded due process before his dismissal.