STATE COLLEGE, Pa.
Coach Joe Paterno is fighting for his job amid “eroding” support from Penn State’s board of trustees and a widening sex-abuse scandal and possible cover-up centered on former assistant and one-time heir apparent Jerry Sandusky.
Paterno’s regularly scheduled news conference was abruptly canceled Tuesday. A university spokesman cited “ongoing legal circumstances,” a reference to charges announced over the weekend that Sandusky molested eight young boys between 1994 and 2009, and that two PSU administrators who have since stepped aside failed to notify authorities of a 2002 incident reported by an eyewitness.
Penn State’s board of trustees was “in sessions” Chairman Steve Garban acknowledged when asked in a brief interview with The Associated Press if the board had called an emergency meeting. A person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the schedule was not made public said the trustees were having a teleconference Tuesday evening.
“The board of directors is very concerned about the chain of events that have occurred,” trustee Paul Silvis told the Centre Daily Times.
Hundreds of fans staged a raucous rally outside Paterno’s home a short time earlier. He appeared briefly, along with some family members, and thanked the crowd for coming.
“I’ve lived for this place. I’ve lived for people like you guys and girls,” Paterno said. “It’s hard for me to say how much this means.”
“As you know, the kids that were the victims, I think we ought to say a prayer for them.”
Asked if he was still the coach, Paterno didn’t answer but a young woman who stood with her arm around him replied: “Now is not the time.”
Paterno’s son, Scott, said his father was disappointed over the decision by PSU President Graham Spanier to cancel the news conference.
Addressing reporters outside his parents’ house, Scott said Joe was prepared to answer questions about Sandusky — who maintains he is innocent — and further that his father plans to coach not only Saturday’s game against Nebraska, but for the long haul.
In the afternoon, Paterno stepped out of a silver sedan being driven by his wife, Sue, and headed to the team practice. At one corner of the facility, managers hastily put plywood boards over an exposed fence to block photographers’ view of the field.
Paterno, who earns about $1 million annually from the school, has been head coach for 46 years and part of the Penn State staff for more than six decades, and his old-school values pervade every corner of the program.
Over that span, the Nittany Lions won two national championships, but unlike many other Division I powerhouses, the program avoided run-ins with the NCAA. The team generates millions of dollars each year in revenues from attendance, TV rights and sponsorships, but it has stubbornly stuck with the basic white-and-blue uniforms that are now among the most recognizable in college football.
All those things have inspired pride in the region and fierce loyalty to Paterno, who is the winningest coach in Division I and one of the most respected in any sport. That lofty status, however, has been the subject of heated arguments in recent days, among students on campus, construction workers on the street and the PSU board of trustees.