When the Penn State football team takes the field on Saturday, someone other than Joe Paterno will be leading the way. The winningest coach in major college football history was fired on Wednesday night, sending angry students into the streets.
The firing comes as the Penn State board grapples with a growing sex scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky is accused of having improper contact with boys over 15 years.
The board also voted to fire Penn State president Graham Spanier.
Paterno released a statement that read in part, “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 want to emphasize that everyone should remain calm and please respect the university, its property and all that we value.” Paterno had earlier in the day announced his intention to retire at the end of the season.
Some students did not heed Paterno’s request for calm. Thousands of students gathered at the Penn State administration building as word of the firing spread. Chants of “We want Joe back!” and “One more game!” filled the air. Eventually the fans headed downtown, where some 100 police wearing helmets and carrying pepper spray met them. NPR reports a few rocks and bottles were thrown, a lamppost was toppled, and a news van was knocked over, its windows kicked out.
Paterno was to have coached one last home game this weekend when PSU hosts Nebraska. “I'm not sure I can tell you specifically,” board vice chair John Surma replied when asked at a packed news conference why Paterno had to be fired immediately. “In our view, we thought change now was necessary.”
The decisions to oust Paterno and Spanier were unanimous, Surma said. Provost Rodney Erickson will be the interim school president, and Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will serve as interim coach.