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Scandal may end Joe Paterno’s reign at Penn State

Discussion on his departure begins

Students greeted Joe Paterno as he arrived at his home last night. At left is his son, Scott Paterno.Matt Rourke/AP

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Joe Paterno’s tenure as the coach of the Penn State football team will soon be over, perhaps within days or weeks, in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal that has implicated university officials, according to two people briefed on conversations among the university’s top officials.

The Board of Trustees has yet to determine the precise timing of Paterno’s exit, but it is clear that the man who has more victories than any other coach at college football’s top level and who made Penn State a prestigious national brand will not coach another season.

Last night, the Trustees said it will appoint a special committee to examine the “circumstances’’ that led to the scandal and possible coverup involving a former Paterno assistant.


Discussions about how to manage his departure have begun, according to the two people. The board is scheduled to meet Friday, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett will attend.

Penn State is scheduled to play its last home game of the season one day later, against Nebraska.

Paterno’s day-to-day status with the program could be affected by the state attorney general’s investigation into the sexual abuse allegations. Paterno has publicly said he was not told of the graphic nature of a suspected 2002 assault by Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant, of a young boy in the football building’s showers. Paterno said the graduate assistant who reported the assault, Mike McQueary, said only that something disturbing had happened that was perhaps sexual in nature.

But yesterday, a person with knowledge of McQueary’s version of events called Paterno’s claim into question. The person said McQueary had told those in authority the explicit details of what he saw, including in his face-to-face meeting with Paterno the day after the incident.

Paterno’s son, Scott, and his lawyer, Joshua D. Lock, could not be reached yesterday. Paterno was to have held a news conference, but the university canceled it less than an hour before it was scheduled to begin. Leaving his house on his way to the football team’s practice, Paterno told reporters: “I know you guys have a lot of questions. I was hoping I could answer them today. We’ll try to do it as soon as we can.’’


Paterno, 84, now in his 46th season as the Penn State coach, has had an extraordinary run of success - one that produced tens of millions of dollars and two national football championships.

Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator under Paterno, has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys across a 15-year period. After leaving the football program following the 1999 season, Sandusky worked with Second Mile, a foundation he established to help needy children.

Paterno has been widely criticized for failing to involve the police when he learned of the allegation of the assault of the young boy in 2002. Additionally, two top university officials - Gary Schultz, the senior vice president for finance and business, and Tim Curley, the athletic director - were charged with perjury and failure to report to the authorities what they knew of the allegations, as required by state law.

Since Sandusky’s arrest Saturday, officials at Penn State - notably its president, Graham B. Spanier, and Paterno - have come under withering criticism for a failure to act adequately after learning, at different points over the years, that Sandusky might have been abusing children. Newspapers have called for their resignations; prosecutors have suggested their inaction led to more children being harmed by Sandusky; and students and faculty at the university have expressed a mix of disgust and confusion.


Paterno has not been charged in the matter, but his failure to report to the authorities what he knew about the 2002 incident has become a flashpoint, stirring anger on the board and an outpouring of public criticism about his handling of the matter.

On Monday, law-enforcement officials said Paterno had met his legal obligation in alerting his superiors at the university when he learned of the 2002 allegation against Sandusky. But they suggested he might well have failed a moral test for what to do when confronted with such a disturbing allegation involving a child not even in his teens. No one at the university alerted the police or pursued the matter to determine the well-being of the child involved.

In recent days, Paterno has lost the support of many board members, according to the two people who have been briefed on their conversations. That development illustrates a decisive shift in the power structure at the university. In 2004, for instance, Paterno brushed off a request by the university president that he step down.

He still has the support of some fans.

“Joe’s been here half a century,’’ said Pam Dorian, 22, a senior from West Chester, Pa. “I feel like if there’s anyone we can trust, it’s him.’’