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This story appears in the April 16, 2012 "One Day, One Game" issue of ESPN The Magazine.
TATE COLLEGE, PA. -- In the lobby of the Penn Stater hotel, they stood vigil -- reporters, cameramen, students, alumni, residents and a few tipsy hotel bar patrons. It was Nov. 9, 2011, shortly before 9 p.m., and the throng awaited the decision of the Pennsylvania State University board of trustees. Behind the closed doors of Room 206, the 32 men and women charged with navigating the worst crisis in Penn State's 156-year history were on the verge of a painstaking but seemingly unavoidable verdict.
Near the back of a conference room littered with coffee cups and plates of half-eaten fudge brownies and chocolate-chip cookies, a 79-year-old trustee and philanthropist named Mimi Coppersmith stood up and beseeched her colleagues to reconsider what they were poised to do. "Coach Paterno is revered here in State College," she said.
"We're not going to drink the Kool-Aid," snapped John P. Surma, then the board's vice chairman and the chief executive officer of United States Steel Corp. "This is what we need to do."
From the speaker of a nearby telephone, a distinctive voice chimed in: "Remember the children. Remember that little boy in the shower." The voice belonged to Thomas W. Corbett Jr., the governor of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a member of the board of trustees. Corbett was participating in his first meeting, but he had the last word.
Surma then asked whether any trustee objected to the firing of coach Joe Paterno.
The question was met with silence.
ive months after that night and two-and-a-half months after Paterno's death from lung cancer at age 85, the Penn State community's anger at the coach's dismissal might be less visible but is no less visceral. The story of how the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case escalated into a Penn State scandal and a Joe Paterno scandal before a rapt national audience seems, in retrospect, a deceptively simple narrative: The alleged rape of a young boy, witnessed by a graduate assistant inside the Penn State locker room showers, was not thoroughly investigated by the university after the head coach told his superiors about it.
The untold story, though, is about bare-knuckle Pennsylvania politics, old grudges and perceived slights. It involves a stagnated child sexual abuse investigation that, to some, took a backseat to higher-profile cases and a gubernatorial campaign. It involves a head football coach who knew too little and, still, failed to do enough. It includes a passive school board of trustees that for months ignored a lurking controversy and then, under pressure to preserve Penn State's reputation, quickly fired its legendary coach without ever talking with him.
|The Old Main administration building on the campus of Penn State University.|
Through it all, the central character was Corbett. "Something not very good happened," he told reporters on Nov. 9, hours before he urged his fellow trustees to fire Paterno. "We have to take the bull by the horns and fix it. Quickly." Publicly, Corbett made it clear that he thought he was the most qualified person to fix Penn State.
A 62-year-old Republican, Corbett is a blunt-spoken former prosecutor whose political career has been built pursuing powerful people who, he has said, "believe they are beyond the law." And his role in the Penn State scandal, fraught with potential conflicts, placed him in a remarkable position. As Pennsylvania's attorney general, he investigated Sandusky for nearly two years but failed to make an arrest. But then, as governor, he blamed the university's leaders for not doing more. One was Paterno, who some board members believed wielded too much power. The other was university president Graham B. Spanier, a 16-year veteran and Corbett rival who had become a vocal opponent of the governor's efforts to slash higher education funding.
To some, Corbett relished the opportunity and had even planned to play a role in managing the crisis. Eight days before the Sandusky grand jury presentment was released this past November, Corbett's staff booked hotel rooms in State College. Becoming governor had made Corbett a trustee, and he had decided to attend his first board meeting, after missing the first four. During those days of crisis in State College, he lobbied for the ouster of Paterno and Spanier, ending with that conference call on Nov. 9. And when he was on campus the next day, after Spanier's resignation and Paterno's firing, he celebrated the leadership changes. "Throughout this whole process, I felt he had some ulterior motive," a trustee says of Corbett. "Most trustees felt uncomfortable with his role. It was odd for him to be there and participate the way he did. Very odd."
Corbett declined repeated interview requests for this story. But on Wednesday his spokesman, Kevin Harley, issued a statement to PennLive.com: "ESPN's report from the grassy knoll merely adds another chapter to the growing list of conspiracy theories surrounding the Sandusky case. It is a disappointment to read something so long, filled with so many errors, that offers so little by way of new or even real fact. The fact remains that Jerry Sandusky is charged with serious crimes of sexually abusing children and that the evidence against him is overwhelming." Harley had previously referred "Outside the Lines" and ESPN The Magazine to several recent local TV interviews in which Corbett explained what he described as the minor role he played in the trustees' deliberations regarding Paterno and Spanier.
"This was their discussion," Corbett said in a Feb. 8 interview with WJAC-TV. "The only thing I said is that they have to remember the children. People may have different memories, but I remember exactly what I said."
"That is a bald-faced lie," one trustee says.
State College faces a new round of anger when Sandusky's trial begins on June 5. But the trustees and Paterno's supporters have never stopped fighting an intensifying battle over how he was dismissed and how he will be remembered -- a battle that could materially impact the university for years to come.
t was time. The Penn State football team had finished the 2004 season with a record of 4-7. The previous year, the Nittany Lions had gone 3-9. People had begun saying out loud what they had long been whispering: The game has passed Paterno by. The leaders of Penn State agreed that the coach, then 78, should retire.
|Paterno would flirt with retirement every year but always return for another season.|
Paterno had been thinking the same thing. And he had invited Spanier, Penn State chief financial officer Gary Schultz, athletic director Tim Curley and trustee Steve Garban to his house to discuss the possibility, sources say. But on the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 2004, as the men sat at Paterno's kitchen table nibbling on cookies, he instead announced he wasn't ready to go.
Referring to handwritten notes, Paterno told the men that his team had a run of blown calls and hard-luck injuries. He said it might be hard to believe, but next year's team was only a couple of impact players from a national championship. He told them he deserved the benefit of the doubt. "We are close," he said.
The men just looked at one another. Leaving had been Paterno's idea. "Hey, fellas," Paterno said, his voice rising, "I've raised more than $1 billion for this university -- in this kitchen. I'm not going anywhere. We'll get better."
Sure enough, the Nittany Lions enjoyed a resurgent 2005 season, finishing with a record of 11-1. As the accolades accumulated for the old coach's comeback, Paterno could not help telling reporters how Spanier and others had tried to force him out, while sitting at his kitchen table. "I said, 'Relax. Get off my backside,'" Paterno told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
For the university's leaders, the incident in the kitchen was a powerful reminder of Paterno's staying power. Every year after, he would flirt with retirement. Sometimes, he'd draw up a list of possible successors. (Urban Meyer topped it in 2011.) But after each season, Paterno changed his mind. The trustees resented Paterno's insistence that he'd decide on his successor. "It's not his decision," one said last summer. By then, many of them had lost patience with the old coach and could not wait for him to go.
he Jerry Sandusky case came to Corbett by accident. In late 2008, the mother of a Clinton County, Pa., high school freshman called the local high school, where Sandusky was serving as a volunteer coach, to say that Sandusky had performed oral sex on her son more than 20 times and had forced the boy to perform oral sex on him. The boy had met Sandusky through Second Mile, the former coach's now-infamous foundation for at-risk children, which he founded in 1977. The alleged incidents occurred in Centre County, but the district attorney there, Michael Madeira, had a conflict: His wife's biological brother had been adopted by Sandusky. So the case was transferred, in March 2009, to Corbett's office.
A passionate defender of children who had opened a sexual predators unit in his office, Corbett had aggressively pursued such prosecutions during his career. But this time, he assigned just one investigator to the Sandusky case, say lawyers with knowledge of the arrangement, although Corbett has denied this through his spokesman. At the time, he had 14 investigators looking into the activities of Pennsylvania House Speaker Bill DeWeese, a Democrat, who was accused of having staff members use state resources for his campaign. DeWeese was convicted last February of five counts of theft, conflict of interest and criminal conspiracy.
DeWeese, who has feuded publicly with Corbett and acknowledges that he harbors "nothing but animus for the man," said that the attorney general's investigation of him was politically motivated and sapped resources from the Sandusky inquiry. "This was an extraordinary diversion of attorney general Corbett's resources pursuing me and my assistant for work rule violations instead of an alleged child rapist," DeWeese said. "It's incredible. It was a mammoth diversion of resources."
Other critics in Pennsylvania have also raised questions about why it took so long for the Sandusky inquiry to gain momentum.
The early months of the Sandusky inquiry were slow in part because there was only one alleged victim, sources say. There was no physical evidence. Prosecutors are usually reluctant to bring sexual abuse cases based on the word of one person, especially against someone with Sandusky's public profile. The mother of the boy who filed the initial complaint became so impatient with the languid pace of Corbett's inquiry that she eventually referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Harrisburg.
"The investigation moved as quickly as it could," Corbett told The Philadelphia Inquirer this past November. "If, during the time I was in office, we could have been in a position to make an arrest, we would have made an arrest."
The inquiry broadened to Penn State in 2010, after Corbett's office discovered a 1998 child sexual assault investigation of Sandusky. In that investigation, university police compiled a nearly 100-page report about alleged abuse involving an 11-year-old boy and another boy. When confronted by one boy's mother, Sandusky admitted what he had done was wrong. "I wish I was dead," he told her, according to court documents.
A psychologist had noted to university police that Sandusky's actions followed a "likely pedophile's pattern." Even so, the Centre County DA, Ray Gricar, decided against filing charges. (In the spring of 2005, Gricar mysteriously vanished, and he has never been seen again.)
What had raised suspicions about Penn State inside Corbett's office was that, shortly after the criminal inquiry was closed, Sandusky retired. (A public document from the inquiry gave no indication that Paterno and Spanier knew anything about the investigation.) Sandusky's lucrative package included taking advantage of a standard offer that longtime, early-retiring Penn State employees received that included five extra years on his pension, giving him credit for 37 years of employment, instead of 32. Besides being granted the title of "assistant professor emeritus of physical education," Sandusky was given a permanent office in an athletic building on campus. He had a parking pass and access to the Lasch Football Building. He was also given four tickets to every home football game. (As late as this past November, Sandusky still had all these benefits.)
hile the current Sandusky investigation was in its second year, Corbett spent much of his time focusing on the sweeping public corruption inquiry of Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg nicknamed "Bonusgate." He also crisscrossed Pennsylvania campaigning for governor, pledging to cut runaway spending and "restore trust in Harrisburg." State campaign records show he accepted contributions of nearly $650,000 from current and past board members of Second Mile and their businesses.
Corbett's opponent was Dan Onorato, a former Allegheny County chief executive and a Penn State alumnus who spent several days campaigning on the Penn State campus. Corbett spent time in State College, too. He had tried to get Paterno, a staunch Republican, to endorse him, but Paterno declined; the coach had a policy against endorsing gubernatorial candidates because the election winner, as Pennsylvania governor, would get a seat on Penn State's board of trustees.
|Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett began the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse investigation when he was state attorney general.|
Spanier, meanwhile, began hearing from board members during the 2010 football season that Corbett was furious with him for appearing to openly favor his opponent. Not long after Corbett saw Onorato and Spanier, a Democrat, chatting in Spanier's luxury suite at Beaver Stadium, concerned officials on Penn State's government affairs staff asked Spanier to work harder to cultivate Corbett. Spanier told colleagues he was perplexed by Corbett's reaction, saying Onorato had not been his guest and, besides, he had gone out of his way not to play favorites.
In early November, as the election neared, the Sandusky investigation intensified when graduate assistant Mike McQueary told investigators what he had seen on a Friday night in March 2002 inside the Lasch Football Building. According to the presentment, McQueary said he had returned to the locker room between 9 and 9:30 to place a new pair of sneakers inside his locker. When he entered, he heard rhythmic slapping sounds inside the showers to his left. He said he saw a naked boy, perhaps 10 years old, with his hands pressed against the wall and Sandusky behind him, apparently raping him. McQueary left the locker room and phoned his father, and the two met later that evening. Early the next morning, McQueary told Paterno. Ten days later, he shared his story with Curley and Schultz.
Corbett's office was already piqued about Penn State's knowledge of Sandusky's behavior during the 1998 investigation. McQueary's testimony about that night in 2002 before the grand jury now offered reasons to question university administrators. And, on Dec. 21, 2010, subpoenas were delivered to the office of Penn State general counsel Cynthia Baldwin seeking the grand jury appearances of Paterno, CFO and university police supervisor Schultz and AD Curley. Baldwin told Paterno of his subpoena nearly two weeks after she had received it and offered to accompany him to the grand jury, where she would be representing Curley and Schultz. Paterno declined the offer, telling her he'd get his own lawyer, sources say. Then Baldwin, who declined to comment for this story through Lanny Davis, a spokesman for Penn State's board of trustees, offered to write Paterno talking points for his testimony. The coach told her he would not need them.
ould you please introduce yourself to the Grand Jury?"
"My name is Joseph V. Paterno."
"I'm sure everyone in the room knows, but just in case there's anyone that doesn't, how are you employed?"
"I'm a football coach at the Pennsylvania State University."
It was 11:07 a.m. on January 12, 2011, inside the grand jury room in an office building in Harrisburg. Grand jurors listened to Paterno describe the Saturday morning in March 2002 when Mike McQueary called him at home and asked to come over to talk about something important. Paterno thought the kid wanted to talk about a promotion to assistant coach. McQueary told him he wasn't looking for a job -- he had something urgent to discuss with Paterno in person.
"Without getting into any graphic detail," Senior Deputy Attorney General Jonelle Eshbach said, "what did Mr. McQueary tell you he had seen and where?"
"Well," Paterno replied, "he had seen a person, an older -- not an older but a mature person who was fondling, whatever you might call it, I'm not sure what the term would be, a young boy."
"Did he identify who that older person was?" Eshbach asked.
"Yes, a man by the name of Jerry Sandusky, who had been one of our coaches [but] was not at the time."
After one question about Sandusky's retirement in 1999, Eshbach said, "I think you used the term 'fondling.' Is that the term you used?"
"Well, I don't know what you would call it," Paterno replied. "Obviously, he was doing something with the youngster. It was a sexual nature. I'm not sure exactly what it was. I didn't push Mike to describe exactly what it was because he was very upset. Obviously, I was in a little bit of a dilemma since Mr. Sandusky was not working for me anymore. I didn't go any further than that, except I knew Mike was upset and I knew some kind of inappropriate action was being taken by Jerry Sandusky with a youngster."
Paterno testified that the next day he called Curley to explain the situation.
"You indicated that your report was made directly to Tim Curley," Eshbach said. "Do you know of that report being made to anyone else that was a university official?"
"No, because I figured that Tim would handle it appropriately," Paterno said.
"We have no further questions of you," Eshbach told the coach.
Paterno's testimony lasted seven minutes.
fter resigning as attorney general, Corbett was sworn in as governor six days later, on Jan. 18. The most urgent item on the new governor's agenda was the state's $4 billion budget shortfall. That March, Corbett proposed slashing $182 million of state funding for Penn State, a 52.4 percent cut from the previous year's total. It was believed to be the largest proposed percentage cut to higher education spending in history.
Spanier was stunned. The next day, he held a 55-minute news conference criticizing Corbett's "near-total abandonment" of state support for public higher education. "We don't want to be a wholly private institution," Spanier said.
|Former Penn State University president Graham Spanier and Paterno before a football game in 2011.|
The rivalry that had been building before the election was now out in the open. "It was pretty clear that the governor didn't care for the president," says state Sen. Jake Corman, a Republican who is head of appropriations. "Clearly during the budget battle, there was a sense of estrangement."
Not long afterward, after initially being told in January that investigators did not need to question him about Sandusky, Spanier was surprised to learn that Corbett's new attorney general wanted him to answer some questions.
And so on the morning of April 13, 2011, Spanier slipped into a back entrance of a Harrisburg office building and endured 90 minutes of questioning by prosecutors in front of the grand jury.
Spanier said he had been informed in March 2002 by Curley and Schultz about the shower allegation, but nothing was said to him by either man about sodomy, sources say. Spanier was told that McQueary saw Sandusky in the shower with a young boy and that they were "horsing around." Spanier adamantly denied all suggestions by prosecutors that there was a cover-up of Sandusky's alleged crimes.
News of the investigation had been in the local newspaper in late March, but, after the grand jury session, Spanier and Baldwin decided that the trustees needed to be directly informed about it. On May 12, they disclosed a handful of details about the criminal inquiry before a private session with the board that was attended by most of the trustees, including chairman Garban and vice chairman Surma, sources say.
Two others who attended recalled that the briefing lasted no more than five minutes. Spanier told colleagues he felt limited in how much he could divulge because he had been advised not to talk in detail about grand jury matters, sources say. Baldwin told the trustees that Paterno, Curley and Schultz had testified, sources say.
Trustees can't recall Spanier's saying that he had also testified a month earlier. But every trustee interviewed by "Outside the Lines" says there was no mention of the 2002 locker room shower incident. No trustee, sources say, asked a single question.
"It was like a big nothing," recalls Alvin Clemens, a trustee and former chairman of The Provident. "Sandusky wasn't working for us. We thought it had nothing to do with us."
The next day, at a public board meeting, Spanier said nothing about the investigation. Neither did Baldwin, who, during the portion of the meeting regarding legal matters, told trustees there were "none pending," according to the meeting's minutes.
The board also met in July and September. Trustees again asked no questions about Sandusky or the ongoing criminal investigation. And, sources say, Spanier and Baldwin offered no updates. Again during those two meetings, Baldwin told them that no "legal matters" were pending.
ecause Penn State is a land-grant university, every Pennsylvania governor is granted a seat on the university's board of trustees. But the state leader's absenteeism from board meetings is a long-standing tradition. Through most of his initial year in office, Corbett continued that tradition, skipping the board's first four meetings during his tenure.
But on Oct. 28, one day before Paterno beat Illinois for his record-setting 409th -- and what turned out to be final -- win, an aide to Corbett called the Nittany Lion Inn on the Penn State campus. The aide made a reservation for the governor and his security detail for Nov. 10 through Nov. 12, according to two people with firsthand knowledge of the arrangements. The next trustees meeting was scheduled for Friday, Nov. 11, and Corbett wanted to be there.
A week after the governor made his reservation, the child sexual abuse charges against Sandusky were unexpectedly made public. It was Nov. 4, and anyone paying attention to the Centre County Court website saw a document listing the 40 allegations against the former coach. The charging document was quickly taken down; a computer glitch was later blamed, and the leak is now being investigated by the Judicial Conduct Board. But a handful of reporters had seen it. The news was now out there.
The next morning, the 23-page presentment that accompanied the Sandusky indictment was unsealed. It was then that the world found out the horrific details: Sandusky was charged with sexually abusing eight boys, most of whom he allegedly met before they turned 13, from 1994 to 2009. But the presentment also accused Curley and Schultz of perjury, saying they had lied to the grand jury about what McQueary had told them he had seen, and of failure to report a crime.
The link between Sandusky and Penn State officials was in the account of what allegedly happened to victim two, the boy McQueary had allegedly seen in the shower with Sandusky. Without McQueary's testimony, the presentment would have focused only on Sandusky. The presentment, which does not quote McQueary directly, describes him as seeing "a naked boy, Victim 2, whose age he estimated to be 10 years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky." Four sentences later, the presentment describes McQueary's decision "to promptly report what he had seen to coach Joe Paterno." The coach, Schultz and Curley each had told grand jurors that McQueary did not describe what he had seen in the same graphic terms used by prosecutors in the presentment.
Two weeks after Paterno notified Curley about the incident, Curley and Schultz met with Sandusky and told the former coach he was no longer permitted to bring any Second Mile children onto the campus. But those university administrators did not tell the police, nor did they try to find out the identity of the victim, court records show.
Paterno never followed up, never told the police. He had left it to his superiors. Many of his supporters said "that's how he was trained to do things," but most people reading the presentment, including the trustees, concluded that Paterno should have done more.
"Shock," says Clemens, describing his feelings as he read about victim two. "Joe has always been really straight and honest and the whole deal. It didn't seem characteristic of Joe at all."
n those first hours after the presentment's release, Spanier struggled to manage the crisis with the board, which held an initial conference call on Saturday, Nov. 5, and a second, lengthier one on Sunday evening, Nov. 6. Spanier's initial reaction was to release a public statement supporting Curley and Schultz: "I have complete confidence in how they have handled the allegations about a former university employee."
The statement, which sources say had been approved by Garban, the board's chairman, infuriated many of the trustees, including Corbett. They thought it was the wrong signal for Spanier to send, and some concluded he should no longer be publicly managing the crisis. Sources say the trustees wanted to do it themselves. When Spanier heard that, he offered to step down. His resignation was accepted.
|Whether Paterno should remain football coach divided the Penn State campus.|
While this crisis of confidence in the university's leadership played out behind closed doors, the national conversation focused on Paterno. Commentators, including many at ESPN, called for Paterno's resignation or dismissal. The view that Paterno had to go hardened on Monday, Nov. 7, during a news conference held by Linda Kelly, the attorney general, and Frank Noonan, the state police commissioner, both of whom are Corbett appointees. Kelly insisted that Paterno was not under criminal investigation and that he had met his legal responsibility by informing his superior. Then Noonan added, "Somebody has to question what I would consider the moral requirements for a human being that knows of sexual things that are happening with a child. You have the moral responsibility to call us."
Corbett stopped short of publicly saying Paterno should be fired, but he told reporters that week: "There is a legal issue. There is a moral issue. I am personally disappointed in the lack of action, and I had to contain that for the last two-plus years."
Paterno and members of his family, according to Paterno family attorney Wick Sollers, tried at least six times to reach individual board members to give the coach's side of the story. "The family received no return calls, and they were never able to have a conversation with anyone on the board or in the administration," Sollers said.
Paterno also had planned to publicly address the presentment at his regularly scheduled Tuesday news conference. But an hour before it was scheduled to begin, the board of trustees canceled it. In the 404-word statement, which has not been made public until now, Paterno said that he told McQueary "he had done the right thing and that I would take the appropriate next step. After consideration, I determined that, given Sandusky's status as a retired employee governed by a retirement package negotiated with the administration, I had no authority to act directly. The next day, in accordance with University policy, I contacted the head of my department and related what was told to me. That was the last time the matter was brought to my attention until this investigation and I assumed that the men I referred to it handled the matter appropriately."
Hours after Paterno would have delivered those remarks, several news organizations reported his imminent firing by the board. The next day, on Wednesday morning, Nov., 9, Paterno announced that he intended to retire at season's end, saying, "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." He also said that the trustees had more important things to attend to than worrying about his future.
Many of the trustees, particularly Corbett, several trustees said, reacted with fury at what they saw as Paterno's act of defiance. One trustee equated the coach's statement about retiring at season's end and the board's priorities as an act of "insubordination."
"We couldn't have him on the sidelines," Clemens says, "acting like nothing happened."
"He kicked sand in our faces," says Edward P. Junker, an emeritus board member and the retired vice chairman of PNC Bank Corp. "After he made that statement, it certainly sealed the deal as far as the trustees were concerned."
ow do you tell an 84-year-old man with 61 years of tenure and an unparalleled record of success that he was just fired? In person, preferably. But the trustees assembled in Room 206 on the evening of Nov. 9 quickly agreed that option was impossible. Campus police urged the trustees to stay away from Paterno's modest ranch house at 830 McKee St., which was walled off by a mob of students, reporters, photographers and TV satellite trucks.
Can it wait until morning? No, there were bound to be leaks. A man should never find out he was fired by reading the morning newspaper.
|The note sent by the board of trustees that directed Paterno to call trustee vice chairman John Surma, who informed him he was no longer the football coach.|
What about a phone call? The trustees tried, but no one was answering the Paternos' home telephone.
How about a messenger? Not the classiest way to deliver this kind of news. But there wasn't much choice. A note should be delivered directly to the coach; it should simply list a name and phone number for the coach to call so he could hear the news from a trustee.
Who should hand-deliver the note? Someone suggested Fran Ganter, Penn State's associate director for football administration who had known Paterno for more than 30 years. Ganter was working that evening in his office.
Just before 10 p.m., Ganter was standing inside Paterno's house. Slipping the note to the coach, Ganter said, "I was asked to deliver this by the board of trustees." John Surma's name and cellphone number were scribbled on a piece of Nittany Lions notepad paper emblazoned with the word FOOTBALL and a ghosted image of the team's iconic white helmet.
On his kitchen phone, Paterno called Surma, who informed him that the board of trustees had "terminated" him as head coach, "effective immediately." After 548 games, a Division I record 409 wins and an 8-1 record in 2011, Paterno had coached his last game. He hung up the phone and broke the news to his wife of 49 years, Sue.
A moment later, Surma's phone rang again from Paterno's home number. This time, he heard the voice of Sue Paterno: "After 61 years, he deserved better." Then she hung up.
Joe Paterno was not fired. That's what the board of trustees now says. He was simply relieved of his coaching duties but was allowed to continue on as an emeritus professor and would be paid his full salary under his contract, the trustees said in the weeks and months since then. In a statement on March 12, the trustees said that if Paterno had not hung up the phone so quickly, Surma had intended to tell him that the board was sorry for firing him by phone and that it was the board's intention to fulfill his employment contract. They also said that it was always their intention to name Paterno "head coach emeritus," a title that bestows honor and privileges.
But none of those plans was mentioned in a certified letter, obtained by "Outside the Lines," that was sent to Paterno exactly one week after he was fired. Written by general counsel Baldwin, the letter begins, "Pursuant to your termination we are asking you to make the following arrangements."
|The termination letter sent to Paterno by Penn State general counsel Cynthia Baldwin.|
Those arrangements involved the university's collecting property from the coach, an apparent pro forma list that included a cellphone (Paterno didn't own one), a university ID card (Paterno never used one), a parking permit, office keys and a security badge.
There was something else. "It is also our understanding that you have conducted university business out of a home office. Someone from University Office of Human Resources will contact you within a week of your receipt of the inventory to arrange for the retrieval of university property."
A few weeks later, a university employee arrived at Paterno's home and carted away a 25-year-old beige telephone and a dilapidated fax machine.
After Paterno and Spanier were ousted, the nationwide narrative focused in part on Corbett, portraying him as one of the lone heroes of the scandal. In State College, he appeared to a few observers to express great pleasure and pride in what had happened.
One senior member of the Penn State faculty recalls seeing Corbett, surrounded by his security detail and friends, at the American Ale House & Grill in State College on Thursday evening, Nov. 10, the night before the regularly scheduled board meeting. "He was just effusive," the faculty member says. "It was like a victory celebration. I remember thinking at the time that it just seemed a strange thing a kind of gratuitous political piling on." The faculty member, who was sitting near Corbett and overheard much of his conversation, added that the governor "left the impression that he was much more engaged, and really influential, in the board's discussions up to that point."
On the Saturday morning of the Nov. 12 Nebraska game -- the first Penn State game without Paterno on the staff since 1949 -- Bob Capretto, a 65-year-old former Penn State player who admittedly "loves Joe Paterno," had a conversation with Corbett, whom he considers a friend. Capretto says he asked Corbett, "Who told the board to fire Joe and fire Spanier?"
"And the governor said, 'I told them to do it,'" Capretto says. "He was proud of it. I told him, 'You don't realize what you have created here. The damage to Penn State is enormous.'"
he fights to restore Penn State's reputation and Joe Paterno's legacy continue, even if they seem to be waged by opposing camps. A refrain of Paterno supporters is that the trustees unfairly judged Paterno based solely on the presentment, which dealt with the coach in just three paragraphs and never quoted directly from the coach's seven-minute grand jury testimony.
"The board of trustees took a 23-page document and weighed it against 61 years of service by Joe Paterno -- and they believed what they read more than what they saw," says Anthony Lubrano, a Penn State graduate and deep-pocketed investor who donated millions for the construction of a baseball stadium. Lubrano, one of the board's leading critics, is now running for an alumni-elected seat on the board.
|Trustees Steve Garban, left, and John Surma, right, announced that Spanier and Paterno had lost their positions amid the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.|
The trustees say that relieving Paterno of his coaching duties was the right decision for Penn State and that, if they had to do it over again, they would make the same decision. Since then, they have tried, more than once, to explain their rationale. First, in interviews in January, they blamed Paterno for "moral failure" and insisted he was not fired but only dismissed as head coach. Then last month, they released a statement saying that Paterno was guilty of "a failure of leadership" and that they regretted firing him by phone. It was then they first announced they had always intended to make Paterno a "coach emeritus."
If anything, the varying explanations have exacerbated the fractured relationship between the board and the Paterno family. They are currently wrangling over the payment of the $4.5 million that remained from Paterno's last contract, including a $3 million retirement bonus that the coach and Spanier had added to the agreement this past August. Against this backdrop is a potential wrongful termination lawsuit by the Paterno family against Penn State that could last years and cost the university tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars. Sollers, the Paterno family attorney, compared the board's decision-making process in November "to a runaway train that undermined the concept of due process."
"It's a short walk from Old Main to Joe's home," says Corman, the Republican state senator, referring to Penn State's central administrative building. "It was a horrible week, there was horrible pressure, and it's easy to say you would do things differently. But why did the board of trustees not back-channel a single conversation with Paterno? Someone will have to explain that to me someday."
Meanwhile, several trustees have received death threats, and a few board members have complained of intimidation by aggressive alumni still seething over Paterno's dismissal and still demanding answers and changes to the board, sources say.
On Feb. 8, Corbett appeared before the Pennsylvania General Assembly to deliver his new budget proposal. Before he began, he asked for a moment of silence for Paterno. A few groans could be heard in the chamber. If Corbett heard them, he didn't show it. During his budget speech, he proposed a 30 percent further cut in funding to state-related universities, including Penn State. Senior administrators and faculty declined to comment for this story, saying that, if they did, they feared reprisals by Corbett in the current negotiations about state funding for Penn State.
Central Pennsylvania is fiercely conservative. But, more than anything else, it remains Paterno country. And, in the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, Corbett's approval rating slumped to 41 percent, his lowest in nearly a year.
or the past few months, former FBI director and federal judge Louis J. Freeh has been leading an investigation into how the events of early November were handled. Trustees hired him to look into the matter without "fear or favor." Because a draft copy of the Freeh report will be made available to the trustees for review before it is released to the public, Paterno supporters fear the inquiry won't look carefully at the board's or Corbett's handling of the scandal. Several people close to the investigation say one focus of the investigators' inquiry is Paterno's management of the football program. The report is expected in September.
|Two-and-a-half months after Paterno's death from lung cancer at age 85, the Penn State community's anger at the coach's dismissal might be less visible but is no less visceral.|
The criminal investigations continue, as well. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Harrisburg has issued subpoenas to Penn State for documents. And the attorney general is still taking grand jury testimony in the Sandusky case.
A major focus of the trial will be the single alleged incident that linked Paterno, Schultz and Curley to Sandusky's alleged acts -- what McQueary told Paterno and others about victim two. Paterno's death might undermine the prosecutors' perjury cases against Curley and Schultz because he cannot be called as a witness. But, even before his death, the case posed challenges: McQueary has said he never used the words "anal rape" in his grand jury testimony about victim two. And that person was never identified by prosecutors, who acknowledged in the presentment that they never interviewed him.
If the perjury charges are dismissed or Schultz and Curley are found not guilty, the few pages of the presentment that transformed the Sandusky allegations into a Penn State criminal case and a Paterno scandal will fall apart. Still, there will be much left to answer for. Still, there will be so much damage done.
"A hard-fought, well-fought, hairline-close game is as classical in sports as tragedy in theater," Joe Paterno wrote more than two decades ago. "A tragedy usually ends with the stage strewn with bodies from both sides of a struggle, and you can't tell who won and who lost."
Don Van Natta Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @DVNJr.