Penn State Is Still Glad It Fired Joe Paterno, Sorry It Didn't Find A "Dignified" Way To Do It In Person

Penn State's Board of Trustees posted a statement on the university's website this morning, explaining why it chose to fire coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier. The trustees already explained this in a New York Times interview in January. But with so many Penn Staters still focused on spit-shining Paterno's legacy in the shadow of the Jerry Sandusky case, the board decided to do it again.

Today's statement, in slightly less than 1,200 words, provides even fewer details than the Times story did. The board justifies Paterno's firing merely in terms of what was in the grand jury presentment that was released Nov. 5, 2011:

The report stated that a Penn State graduate assistant had gone to Coach Paterno's home on Saturday morning, March 2, 2002. The report quoted Coach Paterno as testifying to the Grand Jury that the graduate assistant told him that he had seen Jerry Sandusky, the coach's former assistant coach up to 1999, "in the Lasch Building showers fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy."

While Coach Paterno did his legal duty by reporting that information the next day, Sunday, March 3, to his immediate superior, the then Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley, the Board reasonably inferred that he did not call police. We determined that his decision to do his minimum legal duty and not to do more to follow up constituted a failure of leadership by Coach Paterno.

In that January Times story, though, the board had also said it didn't appreciate the way in which Paterno had questioned its authority in the days after the scandal broke, presumably when he issued his own statement telling the board not to concern itself with his job status. Today's university statement makes no mention of that dispute.

The board does write that it regrets that Paterno's firing was done with a brief phone call on the night of Nov. 9. The report blames the media for the decision, essentially—with Paterno's house surrounded, the trustees saw no "dignified, private and secure way" to deliver the message in person.

So the trustees write that they had planned for their emissary to apologize to Paterno for using the telephone—also to tell him the university would still honor his employment contract, complete with all benefits—but Paterno hung up as soon as he heard about the firing, before the rest of the message could be delivered. (Maybe they should have opened with the apology?)

We are sorry for the unfortunate way we had to deliver the news on the telephone about an hour later to Coach Paterno. However, we saw no better alternative. Because Coach Paterno's home was surrounded by media representatives, photographers and others, we did not believe there was a dignified, private and secure way to send Board representatives to meet with him there. Nor did we believe it would be wise to wait until the next morning, since we believed it was probable that Coach Paterno would hear the news beforehand from other sources, which would be inappropriate.

Thus, we sent a representative of the Athletic Department to ask Coach Paterno to call us. When the coach called, the Board member who received the call planned to tell him that (1) the Board had decided unanimously to remove him as coach; (2) the Board regretted having to deliver the message over the telephone; and (3) his employment contract would continue, including all financial benefits and his continued status as a tenured faculty member. However, after this Board member communicated the first message, Coach Paterno ended the call, so the second and third messages could not be delivered.

According to the statement, the university plans to wait for former FBI chief Lous Freeh to wrap up his internal investigation before it decides how to honor Paterno. For the time being, the trustees write that the university intends "to name him head coach emeritus," which is maybe a little weird, as a title applied to someone already deceased. Graham Spanier, the ex-president, remains a tenured professor and is listed in the university directory as president emeritus.

Report of the Board of Trustees concerning Nov. 9 decisions [Penn State University]