Joe Paterno isn’t done yet. At least not in his own mind.
Paterno announced Wednesday morning that he will retire at the end of the season. Many have called for Paterno to step down immediately, or for Penn State to fire him. But Paterno seems determined to finish out this season, his 46th as head coach and his 61st as a member of the Penn State coaching staff.
The final paragraph of the statement Paterno released Wednesday read: “My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination. And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this University.”
If Paterno is allowed to coach through the end of this season, his final home game will be Saturday against Nebraska. The 12th-ranked Nittany Lions (8-1 overall, 5-0 Big Ten) will then have road games at Ohio State and Wisconsin and could possibly play in the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis. If they win the Big Ten title, the Nittany Lions would play in the Rose Bowl. If they don’t win the Big Ten, they almost certainly will receive a bowl bid.
Regardless of where and when they play, Paterno’s presence will be a magnet for questions about the ongoing sexual abuse scandal centering around former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. In addition to the charges against Sandusky, who is free on bail but is not allowed to be alone with his grandchildren, two Penn State officials, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, have been charged with perjury and failing to report an allegation of sexual misconduct to police. Curley has been placed on administrative leave. Schultz retired this week.
Penn State president Graham Spanier also is in hot water. When the charges were first announced, Spanier expressed “unconditional” support for Curley and Schultz and said he was sure they would be exonerated. The Penn State board of trustees is reportedly considering firing Spanier.
Meanwhile, more alleged victims of Sandusky have reportedly come forward. The grand jury report listed eight victims of Sandusky’s alleged sexual abuse, all of whom came in contact with Sandusky through The Second Mile, the organization he founded to help at-risk youth.
As he did when he asked supportive students rallying outside his home Tuesday night to pray for the victims, Paterno opened his statement Wednesday with thoughts for the victims and their families, saying “I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case. I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief.”
Paterno also addressed the issue of whether he should have done more in 2002 when then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary told Paterno about an incident he observed involving Sandusky, who had resigned as an assistant coach in 1999 but retained “emeritus” privileges such as an office and access to campus facilities.
“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,” Paterno said in his statement.
Paterno’s retirement announcement could be interpreted as a pre-emptive move as the Penn State board of trustees reportedly discusses his fate. Paterno may be trying to trying to head off any move to remove him from his position before the end of the season and, possibly, before Saturday’s home game against Nebraska.
“I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today. That’s why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. 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.”
An emotional Paterno informed his players and coaches of his decision Wednesday. Paterno reportedly broke down in tears as he told them he was retiring. The players reportedly gave Paterno a standing ovation as he left the room.
With 409 victories, Paterno is No. 1 on the career victories list for Division I coaches. He is also known for running a clean program, without a whiff of an NCAA violation, and for having a very high graduation rate. Paterno’s reputation has been sullied, however, but the Sandusky sex abuse scandal. Although Paterno reported McQueary’s allegations regarding Sandusky to Curley, he has been criticized for not doing more after turning it over to the athletic director.