By Tuesday afternoon, there was very little question that Joe Paterno's 46-year tenure as Penn State's head coach would be coming to an end within a matter of weeks. The only question was when, and by whose choice. Wednesday morning, we got our answer: Paterno has officially announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season. Saturday's visit from Nebraska will be his 315th game on the sideline of Beaver Stadium, and his last.
"I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case," Paterno said in a statement, surveying the wreckage of 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. "At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.
"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."
As it stands, Paterno has overseen 409 wins, 37 bowl games, 29 consensus All-Americans, 22 top-10 finishes, six undefeated seasons, three Big Ten championships and two national championships. Assuming his tenure extends through a bowl game on Jan. 1, 2012, he has a chance to tack on a few more superlatives: At 8-1, the Nittany Lions control their own destiny for the Rose Bowl, and two wins in the last three against Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin will send them on to the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 3. Short of Pasadena, the end will likely come in Florida, against an SEC also-ran in either the Capital One, Outback or Gator Bowl.
Paterno's statement is his first since Sunday, one day after 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 on charges of perjury and failing to report Sandusky to authorities. After instructing reporters to avoid Sandusky-related questions at Paterno's regular Tuesday press conference, the university entered bunker mode Tuesday morning by canceling the press conference altogether. Paterno made a few generic comments when students rallied at his house Tuesday night — a prelude to their rallying throughout State College — but when he pulled into his driveway Wednesday morning to a gaggle of students and media surrounding his house, he pulled back out and left.
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 subject of an investigation by university police, and again in 2002, when Paterno was 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. The board of trustees has appointed a special committee to investigate the university's response. University president Graham Spanier, who reportedly signed off on a policy banning Sandusky from bringing kids from a local charity onto Penn State's campus in 2002 without asking any further questions, is expected out by the end of the day.
Unlike Curley, Paterno is not facing legal action from prosecutors and is not expected to be. He has now lost his job under the most depressing possible circumstances, as well as his reputation as the standard bearer for building a winning program "the right way." After 46 years, Joe Paterno was an icon for everything good about college sports. How much of that remains after the last four days, we're about to find out over his last four weeks.