WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT INSIDE – VIEW AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — For the first time in almost a half-century, someone other than Joe Paterno is calling the shots at Penn State.
The winningest coach in major college football history was fired Wednesday night, sending angry students into the streets where they shouted support for Paterno and tipped over a news van.
Also relieved of duty was Penn State president Graham Spanier. Both were ousted by a board of trustees fed up with the damage being done to the university’s reputation by a child sex-abuse scandal involving Paterno’s one-time heir apparent.
“Right now, I’m not the football coach. And I’ve got to get used to that. After 61 years, I’ve got to get used to it,” the 84-year-old Paterno said, speaking outside his house. “Let me think it through.”
Paterno had earlier in the day announced his intention to retire at the end of the season, his 46th.
It didn’t matter.
“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.”
As word of the firings spread, thousands of students flocked to the administration building, shouting, “We want Joe back!” and “One more game!” They then headed downtown to Beaver Avenue, where about 100 police wearing helmets and carrying pepper spray were on standby. Witnesses said some rocks and bottles were thrown, a lamppost was toppled and a news van was knocked over, its windows kicked out.
State College police said early Thursday they were still gathering information on any possible arrests.
The decisions to oust Paterno and Spanier were unanimous, Surma said. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will serve as interim coach, and the university scheduled a news conference with him for Thursday morning. Penn State hosts Nebraska on Saturday in the final home game of the season, a day usually set aside to honor seniors on the team.
Provost Rodney Erickson will be the interim school president.
Paterno had come under increasing criticism – including from within the community known as Happy Valley – for not doing more to stop the alleged abuse by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who has been charged with molesting eight boys over 15 years. Some of the assaults took place at the Penn State football complex, including a 2002 incident witnessed by then-graduate assistant and current assistant coach Mike McQueary.
McQueary went to Paterno and reported seeing Sandusky assaulting a young boy in the Penn State showers. Paterno notified the athletic director, Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz, who in turn notified Spanier. Curley and Schultz have been charged with failing to report the incident to authorities, and Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly earlier this week refused to rule out charges against Spanier.
Paterno is not a target of the criminal investigation, but the state police commissioner called his failure to contact police himself a lapse in “moral responsibility.”
Paterno said in his statement earlier Wednesday that he was “absolutely devastated” by the abuse case.
“This is a tragedy,” Paterno said. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”
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