Capital Region alumni of Penn State University and admirers of its legendary football coach, Joe Paterno, said Thursday his firing was justified and that the once squeaky-clean university will need years to recover from the child abuse scandal.
“It was justified,” said University at Albany football coach Robert Ford, who has known Paterno for more than 40 years.
“It saddens most of us because he did a superb job coaching a football team and he never had any problems with NCAA violations,” Ford said. “But because of these series of events that occurred, the board seemed to feel there was enough proof to fire the president and fire Joe.”
Ford met Paterno at many football- and coaching-oriented occasions over the years and once visited Penn State to learn about its vaunted defense.
He said Paterno exercised poor judgment in not following through on reports that Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s former longtime defensive coordinator and one-time heir apparent, was seen molesting a 10-year-old boy in the shower at Penn State in 2002.
Paterno said he reported the incident to university administration but never followed up on the allegations. He told a grand jury this year he was unaware specifically of what Sandusky did with the boy and that he took the action he did because Sandusky was not a member of his staff at that time. Sandusky had retired in 1999 but still had access to the campus and football facilities.
In the wake of the scandal, Pennsylvania police said Paterno should have assumed a moral responsibility to report the incident to them after learning about it.
“We are all guilty of all things, but I am not defending him. I am sure he will look back and wished he had taken more action,” Ford said, especially since “Sandusky stayed around the sports complex and he was around kids.”
Ford said he believes the scandal will take a serious long-term toll on Penn State, which has a reputation as an upright university. “It is hard to come back from one of these events, but it is a great university and a great state, and you hope it rebounds,” Ford said. “But I have heard there are some kids who said they will not sign up after committing, so they may be losing a whole signing class.”
Roger Wyland, sports director at WNYT and a 1983 graduate of Penn State, also believes Paterno failed to follow through in reporting the incident to police.
“I have always held him in high regard. I just do not understand how he did not put his foot down on this issue since 2002 when it was brought to his attention,” Wyland said.
“I am disappointed he did not follow through as he has done in so many other things in his career. He is a man who dots the I’s and crosses the T’s.”
Wyland, who hails from Altoona, Pa., grew up on Penn State football. While a student at PSU and for a brief spell after graduation, he worked as sports director at CBS affiliate WTAJ in Altoona. He covered Penn State between 1980 and 1986 and conducted one-on-one interviews with Paterno once a week.
“I think the board had to clean house. Paterno is not a scapegoat, but they did not feel comfortable with how the scandal affected the university’s reputation. They needed to show they have some morals,” Wyland said. “There is enough to suggest that he did not make enough moves to lock up Sandusky.”
Wyland said Paterno “is Penn State, and for him not to know is hard for me to believe.” He said the damage to the university’s reputation will take years to repair. “This is one of the stories 50-60 years from now when people talk about Penn State, they will talk about the sex abuse scandal and that coach Paterno.
“This story goes far beyond NCAA rules violations. This has become the biggest college sports scandal in the history of college sports. I am disappointed to see his coaching career be tainted like this.”
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