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It’s official: ‘Joe Paterno is no longer the head football coach’ at Penn State

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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The Penn State Board of Trustees announced Wednesday night that it has voted unanimously to fire head coach Joe Paterno. After 61 years and 704 games, one of the great coaching careers in college football ends in scandal, with a telephone call.

The board's vice chairman, John P. Surma, delivered the news shortly after 10 p.m., telling a roomful of reporters "Joe Paterno is no longer the head football coach." As expected, university president Graham Spanier is also out, effective immediately.

Paterno, 84, will not lead the Nittany Lions in their final home game of the 2011 campaign Saturday against Nebraska, as he had hoped when he announced his retirement earlier today, without the board's approval, effective at the end of the season. Longtime assistant Tom Bradley will take over as interim head coach for the final three regular season games and the postseason — which could still include the Big Ten Championship Game and the Rose Bowl — the first time Penn State will take the field without Paterno since he was hired as an assistant in 1950. He was promoted to head coach in 1966. Previously, he had coached in every game in the 52-year history of Beaver Stadium.{YSP:MORE}

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JoePa's career ends with Division I records for wins (409) and bowl games (37), as well as 29 consensus All-Americans, 22 top-ten finishes, five undefeated seasons, three Big Ten championships and two national championships. His final game was a come-from-behind, 10-7 win over Illinois that pushed him past the late Eddie Robinson for career victories by a head coach. For years, he was considered an icon of his profession, the embodiment of building a successful program while maintaining an emphasis on education, community and fidelity to NCAA rules. All of which is now tainted by a scandal that has laid waste to four decades of goodwill in just four days since reports emerged that Paterno and other Penn State officials didn't respond with enough urgency to allegations of sex crimes by his longtime defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky.

The board's press conference tonight was the first statement by the university since the Pennsylvania attorney general detailed a multitude of charges against Sandusky and Penn State athletic director Tim Curley, who was indicted along with another university official — both of whom stepped down on Sunday night — on charges of perjury and failing to report Sandusky to authorities.

Sandusky is facing 25 felony counts of deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, unlawful contact with a minor, endangering the welfare of a child and indecent assault against at least eight victims over more than a decade. New reports Tuesday night suggested that number may now be as high as 20 victims and growing as the publicity of the case generates new accusations.

On at least two occasions — once in 1998, when Sandusky was the informed directly by a graduate assistant who said he saw Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in a locker room shower — Paterno and other administrators had reason to at least suspect Sandusky was engaging in violent criminal behavior on Penn State's campus. Still, Paterno only passed the 2002 charge up the chain to Curley, and apparently did not follow up with his boss or former colleague.

Sandusky was neither disciplined nor reported to authorities, and (thanks to his "emeritus" status following his retirement in 1999) continued to maintain an office in the football building and enjoy access to the locker room and other campus facilities as recently as last week, when he was arrested. The board of trustees has appointed a special committee to investigate the university's response, as has the U.S. Department of Education.

"I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case," Paterno said today in his retirement statement, which also urged the Board of Trustees to "not spend another minute" thinking about his status. "This is a tragedy. 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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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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