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 Questions about Joe Paterno's future hang over Penn State

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Join date : 2010-10-23

PostSubject: Questions about Joe Paterno's future hang over Penn State   Tue Nov 08, 2011 5:45 pm

Questions about Joe Paterno's future hang over Penn State

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Pantlegs rolled up, peering through his trademark thick glasses, Joe Paterno has presided over every one of the 314 football games that Penn State has played in Beaver Stadium's 52-year history.
Could Saturday's be his last?

Four days before the Nittany Lions' were to take on Nebraska, fallout from the arrest of his former defensive coordinator on charges of sexually abusing eight children - and questions about how Paterno and his superiors handled at least one of the cases - threatened Tuesday to bring the career of the sport's most accomplished and revered coach to an unceremonious end.

BLOG: Paterno addresses media outside home
PHOTOS: Images from Joe Paterno's Penn State career

One report by The New York Times, citing two unnamed university officials, said discussions were underway about "how to manage his departure" by the end of the season. Both the Associated Press and The Chronicle of Higher Education, respectively citing someone familiar with talks among Penn State's board of trustees and individuals with close ties to the school's senior leadership, said Paterno's support was "eroding" but his fate remained uncertain.

The Chronicle said Penn State President Graham Spanier's status also is tenuous.

Paterno, who turns 85 next month, is three-quarters through his 46th season as the Lions' head coach and 62nd overall in Happy Valley. He has weathered previous turbulence: a stretch of four losing seasons in five years that made his advancing age an issue less than a decade ago, an attempt by school administrators to push him into retirement then, a spate of player-behavior issues raising doubts about his control of his program and sideline collisions that left him injured and coaching from the press box in 2006 and again this year.

But never, at Penn State or anywhere else, has there been a crisis like this, ignited by the weekend indictment of longtime assistant Jerry Sandusky and arrests of athletics director Tim Curley and Senior Vice President Gary Schultz on charges of perjury and failing to report what they knew about Sandusky's abuse of young boys.

"Let's be fair and let the legal process unfold," Paterno pleaded in a statement late Saturday, an off-day for his team.

But the furor has only intensified, and the ground beneath him grown shakier, since then.

Paterno isn't legally implicated in the Sandusky case, a grand jury report detailing how he followed protocol in going to Curley with a graduate assistant's account of an instance of abuse in a shower at Penn State's Lasch Football Building in March 2002. But there was never a report to law or child protection authorities - the basis for charges against Curley and Schultz - and Paterno has been condemned for not following up on such a serious issue.

Pennsylvania state police Commissioner Frank Noonan turned up the heat Monday, essentially saying that Paterno had failed in his "moral responsibility" to push further on the shower incident.
And Tuesday, the mothers of two of the victims added their anguished voices in interviews with The (Harrisburg, Pa.) Patriot-News.

"I'm infuriated that people would not report something like that," one of the mothers told the newspaper. "I still can't believe it. I'm appalled. I'm shocked. I'm stunned. There's so many words. I'm very mad. They could have prevented this from happening."

It seems unfathomable that Paterno - winner of 409 games, cultivator of an 87% player graduation rate, multi-million-dollar donor to Penn State's academic side and favorite of U.S. presidents - is being pushed to the brink by scandal.

No major-college football coach has won more. None has coached to an older age (though in the NCAA's Division III, John Gagliardi is 50 days older and still on the sideline at St. John's, Minn.).

Paterno arrived at Penn State as a 23-year-old assistant in 1950, and took over the Nittany Lions' program as head coach in 1966. His storied tenure has produced five undefeated seasons, the last in 1994, and national championships in 1982 and 1986.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame four years ago, and a bronzed, life-size statue of the coach running onto the field, right index finger raised, stands outside Beaver Stadium.
His name also adorns a school library.

Tuesday night, hundreds of students gathered outside Paterno's home in support. He eventually emerged, in a grey sweatshirt, and thanks them.

"It's hard for me to tell you how much this means to me," he said. "I've lived for this place. I've lived for people like you guys and girls."

Paterno added, "The kids who are victims . . . I think we all ought to say a prayer for them."

It was in 2004 that Spanier, Curley and other school officials tried to talk him into getting out. The Nittany Lions had gone 26-33 over five seasons, four of them ending with losing records.

A stubborn Paterno hung in, and he and his teams have gone 66-20 in seven years since then. The Lions take an 8-1 record, 5-0 in the Big Ten Conference, into Saturday.

Still, there was pre-scandal speculation about this season being his last, fed by an blindside hit to the octogenarian by a Penn State rece2011 Pro Bowl Jerseys[/url]iver who ran out of bounds during a workout in August. Paterno was briefly hospitalized, and soreness in his right leg, shoulder and pelvis have restricted him to the safety of the press box on game days.

The Sandusky case has rendered him a less sympathetic figure.

Saturday is Penn State's annual Senior Day, typically a celebration of the cycle of honor and achievement that have marked Paterno's program for more than 4 ½ decades. The degree to which that revelry is muted - hinging in part on whether it's also a farewell for Paterno - remains to be seen.

"For this to be the way my last football game is going to be played out, it's kind of … I don't know what to expect," said Kyle Harris, a member of Penn State's Blue Band. "I'm kind of nervous for it, and I hope that we can uphold the tradition that I was so fond of four years ago when I wanted to come here and that has been upheld the entire time that I've been here.

"Yesterday we had practice, and … it was one of the most quiet days of practice I've had in my four years."

The senior public relations major is helping to organize a candlelight vigil the night before the game to honor the victims of the sexual abuse.

"It's tough to think about football with this whole thing going on right now. I have so many mixed emotions and feeling," he said. "It's very frustrating."
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