STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP/WWJ) — In his 46 years on the job, Penn State coach Joe Paterno has never quite faced a crisis like the one now hovering over Happy Valley like a dark cloud.
Retired Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been charged with sexually assaulting eight boys. Paterno’s boss, athletic director Tim Curley, and another school administrator, face charges of perjury and failing to report to state and county officials that a witness told them he saw an alleged instance of abuse in 2002.
Detroit Lions’ legendary running back and former college football player Barry Sanders took a minute Monday during a stop at Southfield’s MacArthur Elementary School to address the unfolding scandal.
Sanders called Paterno an “honorable man.”
“Bad things happen…It could’ve happened anywhere, not just with any program, it just happened to happen at Penn State,” Sanders told WWJ’s Ron Dewey. “But obviously we’ve seen things like that happen like in schools, in business. It’s really just an unfortunate incident.”
But it happened at a tradition-rich school that proudly boasts the slogan “Success with Honor.”
“If this is true we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families. They are in our prayers,” Paterno in a statement issued Sunday evening by his son, Scott.
Suddenly, Paterno’s Hall of Fame credentials are a mere afterthought. Or his 409 career victories — a Division I record. Or the Nittany Lions’ 8-1 start that has propelled them to a surprising two-game lead in the Big Ten Leaders Division.
There are much more serious questions to be asked.
“It’s shocking and surprising that’s it come up, and if it’s true then the strongest penalty should be taken against anyone engaged in a cover-up. I think it really is a shame because it is one of the few things that tarnishes Penn State football,” said Grant Brown, 18, a freshman from York, as he waited at a bus stop on campus.
Following a hastily-called meeting of school trustees Sunday night, the university accepted Curley’s request to be placed on administrative leave to devote time to his defense. Interim senior vice president Gary Schultz will step down and return to retirement for the same reason, the school said.
Lawyers for Sandusky, Curley and Schultz have said their clients are innocent of the charges. Curley and Schultz were scheduled to surrender to authorities Monday in Harrisburg.
Paterno is not implicated in the case.
“Joe Paterno was a witness who cooperated and testified before the grand jury,” said Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office. “He’s not a suspect.”
School spokesman Bill Mahon said Sunday night the resignations of Paterno and school president Graham Spanier were not discussed at the meeting.
Still with remarkable swiftness over a two-day span of the team’s bye week, Penn State’s once rock-solid program descended into turmoil. While other schools were plagued by controversy after controversy — Ohio State and Miami this year, for instance — storied Penn State seemingly just rolled right along with about as much buzz as their plain blue-and-white uniforms.
Earlier Sunday, Paterno offered more details on his involvement with the grand jury investigation.
Paterno in his statement referred to his testimony in which he testified that he was informed by an assistant coach in 2002 that he had witnessed an incident in the shower of the team locker room. Prosecutors have said Paterno had passed on the information to athletic director Tim Curley.
The lurid report detailed alleged graphic instances of abuse.
Few people — if anybody — before this weekend, ever thought Paterno would be called to testify in such a sensational case.
Paterno in his statement said specific actions alleged to have occurred in the grand jury report were not relayed to him.
“It was obvious that the witness was distraught over what he saw, but he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the grand jury report,” Paterno said in the statement. “Regardless, it was clear that the witness saw something inappropriate involving Mr. Sandusky. As coach Sandusky was retired from our coaching staff at that time, I referred the matter to university administrators.”
In a phone interview, Scott Paterno, serving as his father’s spokesman, said the first and only incident reported about Sandusky to Paterno was in 2002. Scott Paterno, a former lawyer, is a Harrisburg-based political operative.
Sandusky retired from his assistant’s job in 1999. He is charged with sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years. Overseeing the linebackers, Sandusky coached such prominent players including Jack Ham, Shane Conlan and Matt Millen.
Sandusky coached the defense in Penn State’s 1982 and 1986 national title seasons, and was at one point considered a likely successor to Paterno. The grand jury report released Saturday said one victim, identified as “Victim 4,” recalled a meeting with an emotional Sandusky after Paterno had told Sandusky about May 1999 that his assistant would not be the next coach at Penn State.
According to Scott Paterno, his father made the decision because he felt Sandusky was spending too much time at The Second Mile, a foundation Sandusky established to help at-risk kids, where authorities say he encountered the boys. Sandusky then made the decision to take early retirement, Scott Paterno said.
Scott Paterno said his father told Sandusky he had to dedicate himself to either the foundation or coaching. “Joe had said ‘You can’t do both, you can’t have two masters,’” Scott Paterno recalled.
Curley and Gary Schultz were charged Saturday with failing to report to state and county officials that a witness told them he saw Sandusky sexually abusing a naked boy in the locker room showers in 2002.
Two people familiar with the investigation confirmed the identity of the witness as then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary, now the team’s wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. The two spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the names in the grand jury report have not been publicly released.
“I understand that people are upset and angry, but let’s be fair and let the legal process unfold,” Paterno said in the statement. “In the meantime I would ask all Penn Staters to continue to trust in what that name represents, continue to pursue their lives every day with high ideals and not let these events shake their beliefs nor who they are.”
At the time of the 2002 incident, Paterno was 75. Scott Paterno said the witness may have had a tough time detailing what he saw to the elder Paterno.
The head coach had “every indication” that the issue was going to be handled, or had been handled, Scott Paterno added.
“I can’t speak to whether he felt he had a moral obligation … but from the standpoint of what he was able to do, that was the most he could do,” Scott Paterno said. “It never crossed his mind … that someone was trying to cover something up.”
Reported by Genardo C. Armas, AP Sports Writer; AP writers Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg and Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.
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