Joe Paterno is no longer Penn State head football coach and Graham Spanier is out as president, the university's board of trustees announced Wednesday night in its response to the child sex scandal that has overwhelmed the college and shocked the nation.
Paterno, who had been head coach at Penn State for 46 years, was replaced on an interim basis by his assistant coach Tom Bradley. Spanier's duties will be assumed temporarily by Rodney Erickson, Penn State provost.
The moves were made "in the best long-term interests of the university," said John P. Surma, vice chairman of the trustees.
Spanier's resignation had been widely expected, but Paterno's immediate removal came as a surprise to many in the university. Earlier in the day, Paterno said he would finish the season and then retire. Students gathered late Wednesday in State College to protest Paterno's firing.
"One more game!" the students chanted. They wanted Paterno to coach the season's final home game Saturday against Nebraska. Around midnight, thousands marched from downtown to Old Main shouting, setting off fireworks and beating on cars in support of "JoePa."
Two national championships. The envied graduation rate of his players. The rigid focus on academics. All of that will be remembered, but the legacy of the man behind Happy Valley forever will be linked to the role Paterno played in the sex scandal.
Paterno built his legendary coaching career, a football program considered pristine and a university in central Pennsylvania from an initial desire to raise tuition for law school. On Wednesday, that career reached a stunning conclusion amid one of the most sordid legal and moral scandals in college sports history.
The Hall of Fame football coach who built the Penn State program on the principle of "Success with Honor" announced his retirement, four days after his former assistant Jerry Sandusky was charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of children.
Paterno, who will turn 85 in December, said in a statement Wednesday night: "Right now, I'm not the football coach, and that's something I have to get used to."
He had intended to coach the game against Nebraska, but the trustees scuttled that plan. Paterno's dismissal concludes one of the swiftest and most important falls in sport.
Less than two weeks ago, Penn State defeated Illinois for Paterno's 409th career victory, a record among NCAA Division I football coaches. Following the game, Paterno accepted a plaque commemorating the moment from Spanier and then-athletic director Tim Curley.
Now Paterno is gone and Spanier is gone. Curley has been on administrative leave since being charged with perjury in the Sandusky case.
Kevin Harley, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett, said late Wednesday that the governor was not surprised by the university's action.
"The governor said [earlier Wednesday] that he wanted the Board of Trustees to act swiftly and strongly and they have done that," Harley said. "Now they need to go about the job of restoring trust and faith in the university for the students, alumni and citizens of Pennsylvania who pay the taxes that support the university."
Harley said Corbett still plans to travel to the board of trustees meeting on Thursday after an appearance in Philadelphia. He'll stay overnight in State College on Thursday night and attend the board's meeting on Friday, Harley said.
Earlier Wednesday, Paterno said he was "absolutely devastated" over the charges against Sandusky, in the statement that was drafted by his family and a Virginia-based crisis management firm separate from the university. Current players learned of their coach's retirement via social media before he addressed them at an 11 a.m. team meeting. Paterno cried at the short event, and players gave him a standing ovation.
"It's criminal the way he went out," senior offensive tackle Chima Okoli said, "because he's done so much for this university and he's had such a legacy. This isn't a fitting end for all the work he's done, not only for Penn State but for the world."
Until this week, Paterno had derived his mission and potential legacy from advice given by his late father, Angelo: "If you stay [at Penn State], have an impact."
Joe Paterno had no intentions of doing so. After playing football at Brown University, Paterno joined his coach, Rip Engle, in migrating to Penn State in 1950. He intended to coach for two years, pay off his student loans and save money to attend law school.
Penn State, then a small agricultural school, grew on Paterno, as did coaching. He slept on the couch of a fellow assistant coach for several years. He met his wife, Sue, while she was a student at Penn State.
At Penn State, the success of Paterno's football teams developed the university into both a football and academic power. Beaver Stadium has more than doubled in size since 1960, becoming the nation's second-largest stadium. Penn State athletics generated $72.7 million in revenue just from football, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics.
The campus library is named for Paterno, who has given more than $4 million to campus projects. Two years ago, Joe and Sue Paterno donated $1 million to help build a new wing on the Mount Nittany Medical Center in Stage College. A new Catholic Student Faith Center, under construction, is to be named after Sue Paterno.
The Paternos gave much and received much in return.
"It's hard for me to tell you how much this means to me," Paterno told several hundred students who congregated outside his house Tuesday night. "I've lived for this place. I've lived for people like you guys and girls. I'm just so happy to see that you feel so strongly toward our school."
Paterno became head coach in 1966, won his first game and embarked on a career that took him to heights unseen. His teams have won two national championships and shares of three Big Ten Conference titles, and this year Penn State is unbeaten in conference play. He had five undefeated or untied seasons and won an unprecedented five American Football Association Coaches Association coach-of-the-year awards. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
"When they write the history of college football in the second half of the 20th century — and maybe the first half of the 21st century — he will be regarded among the greats," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said of Paterno in 2010, when the coach won his 400th career game. "I'm not talking about just football or just college. I'm talking about one of the great coaches in the history of American sports."
On Wednesday, Delany issued a statement that, like so many others, expressed "heartache."
"The entire situation is so sad," Delany's statement read in part. "There is anger, confusion and heartache on the part of many. First and foremost, our hearts go out to all those whose lives have been negatively impacted by this series of events, particularly the young victims and their families."
Paterno's idea of the "Grand Experiment" — building football teams with players who study and graduate — is well-chronicled. Speaking to the Board of Trustees in 1982, after Penn State won its first national championship, Paterno challenged the university to "search for its intellectual soul."
Penn State's Graduation Success Rate for football was 87 percent, according to the most recent NCAA data. That was the second-highest score in the Big Ten (behind Northwestern) and tied with Stanford for the top score among teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings. The Penn State football program has produced 47 academic all-Americans and 18 NCAA postgraduate scholarship winners.
In 1991, Paterno was inducted as an honorary member of the Penn State chapter of Eta Sigma Phi, the national classics society. The group was impressed that Paterno had read Virgil's "Aeneid" in Latin.
The tumult of Paterno's career did not start this week, however. In 2004, following his team's fourth losing season in five years, Paterno was asked to retire by university officials, including Spanier. Paterno said he rejected the idea, and the team won a share of the Big Ten title in 2005.
Through it all, Paterno said that his greatest strength was keeping a staff with more than 100 years of combined coaching experience. Three of his current assistant coaches have played for him, as did Curley, the former athletic director, and Mark Sherburne, the acting athletic director. In addition, four of the nine elected members of the Board of Trustees played for Paterno as well.
Ultimately, that loyalty might have cost Paterno. State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan told reporters this week that Paterno had a "moral responsibility to call us" regarding allegations against Sandusky, specifically a 2002 incident that was witnessed by current assistant coach Mike McQueary, according to a grand jury report. Paterno is not a target of the investigation.
"Whether you're a football coach or a university president or the guy sweeping the building," Noonan said, "I think you have a moral responsibility to call us."
Wednesday, Paterno was left to retire with a statement that began by addressing sexual abuse in the facilities he essentially built:
"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.
"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."