Penn State Trustees Right to Sack Legendary Coach Joe Paterno

Dave HarrisCorrespondent INovember 10, 2011

Joe Paterno.  Penn State Legend.
Joe Paterno. Penn State Legend.Rob Carr/Getty Images

The firing of Penn State Football coach, mentor and legend Joe Paterno should not come as a surprise in the wake of the allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

Regardless of Peterno’s announcement earlier this week that he would be stepping down at the end of the season, Penn State has a responsibility to investigate how such incidents could have been allowed to occur.

It would only have been natural for Paterno to have been suspended pending the outcome of any internal investigation, at the very least.

Given his decision to step down, there would have been little point in taking that route. Even if the investigation found that there was absolutely no fault attached to the head coach, by the time of his reinstatement, the season may well already have been over.

It was quite right that the Penn State board of trustees decided at this point that a change of leadership was required, and it is unlikely that the football staff will be the only ones who feel the impact. 

The review that is undertaken should encompass all sports at the university, not just football, and a culture of absolute zero tolerance for such predatory activity needs to be instilled.

As much as anything, Paterno’s apparent lack of either relevant oversight or understanding of the situation is what has led to his dismissal. 

To some extent he’s the man who buried his head in the sand, and didn’t wish to believe that this sort of thing could happen. 

It’s not quite the same as turning a blind eye, but the implication that Paterno was at least made aware that there was a situation that had developed does raise questions about his judgement and lack of willingness to investigate.


The fans that are sad that he’s gone are right to show their support for him, but they should bear in mind that judgements about Paterno and others inside the coaching staff are still to be made.

Their current outpouring of support is prompted by the pre-existing affection for a man who has been a fixture at the university, who had led their team to success (two national titles) and who has broken records along the way (409 wins).

It isn’t, at this time, tainted by the ongoing investigation, or any understanding of the level of knowledge that Paterno had, or should have had, about his Sandusky’s activities.

However, their rioting after hearing the new of his firing should not and cannot be condoned, and it is to Paterno's credit that he pleaded with people not to damage the university or its property. 

His love of the university shone through, despite the termination of his contract, whilst vandals who have not understood the whole story ignored his words.

To repeat, Penn State University had no choice but to do the right thing and fire Joe Paterno. 

A clean slate is needed, and the right culture has to be in place from the very start that replicates the mores of the modern society. Individual rights should be protected, and activities that are harmful cannot be retained purely because "that's the way it's always been."

Paterno may not have been responsible for that culture directly, but as such a long-time incumbent in his post, change would have been difficult to establish, and the new man has to start without the ghost of Paterno looking over his shoulder.