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Penn State: A Change At The Top

The sun will rise in State College, Pennsylvania this morning and most people will go about their business as usual. However at The Pennsylvania State University, one of the nation’s largest public institutions, the day begins with an interim president, interim athletic director and interim head football coach.

Penn State Board Of Trustees Press Conference
John Surma announces that Penn State president Graham Spanier and football head coach Joe Paterno have been fired during the Penn State Board of Trustees Press Conference at the Penn Stater, (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Late last night in the wake of a child sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the university and community the Board of Trustees announced that President Graham Spanier was out and followed that by announcing that Joe Paterno’s tenure as head football coach would end immediately. In what you might consider a sign of what’s wrong with everything nobody is talking about Spanier’s dismissal after 16 years of running the university…rather the conversation is all about the firing of Paterno and a sudden, swift and sad end to one of the greatest coaching careers of all time.

You know by now that I’m emotionally invested in this story and full of mixed feelings, thoughts and opinions. Unlike many talk show hosts and columnists who offer opinions only because it’s their job I know first-hand what Paterno has meant to the school and surrounding area. While his god-like status may be too much for many he did earn at least part of that for doing a lot of good things over 61 years.

In the words of a former US President, “let me make this perfectly clear.” Joe Paterno was not nearly perfect and I felt strongly that he should have retired a couple of years ago when age and poor health no longer allowed him to be the driving force behind the program that he had been. I and many others felt that Paterno’s ego and self-interests were standing in the way of what was best for the football program…a change at the top.

However nobody could have predicted a demise like this. Early in the afternoon Wednesday the 84-year old Paterno announced he would retire at the end of the season but about ten hours later that was no longer an option as he was fired over the phone. While allowing him to finish out the season was probably the popular choice you can’t really fault the Trustees for their decision as they begin the long and slow road to restoring confidence in the university. Time will tell if the firing was warranted but clearly those Trustees are trying to send a message that the actions or inactions of some of their own school officials were not acceptable.

By the way with Paterno and Spanier out of the picture maybe the focus will shift toward Jerry Sandusky, the alleged child predator who somehow has been allowed to fall to the second paragraph….let’s remember he’s the real bad guy here.

Kevin Williams can be heard weekday mornings on New Jersey 101.5 and on WOBM AM & FM in Toms River with his daily feature, “The Hometown View.” He is a graduate of Penn State as is his son; his daughter is currently a sophomore.


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