STATE COLLEGE, Pa. —Penn State trustees say they decided to oust Joe Paterno in part because the football coach didn't meet a moral obligation to do more to alert authorities about a child sex abuse allegation against a retired assistant coach.
Trustees interviewed Thursday by The Associated Press also cited statements from Paterno in the days and hours leading to his dismissal Nov. 9 — after nearly a half-century of leading the Nittany Lions — that they felt challenged the Board of Trustees' authority. Board members saw that as inappropriate, particularly at a time of intense scrutiny over the case of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Sandusky was charged with dozens of child sex abuse counts four days before Paterno was pushed out. The head coach had testified before a state grand jury about a 2002 allegation against Sandusky that was passed on to him by a graduate assistant.
A day after the graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, came to see him, Paterno relayed the accusations to his superiors, one of whom oversaw campus police. Board members didn't think that was enough.
"There's an obligation, a moral responsibility, for all adults to watch out for children, either your own or someone else," trustee Mark Dambly said. "It was in our opinion that Joe Paterno did not meet his moral obligation and for that reason — me, personally for that reason, I felt he could no longer lead the university and it was unanimous."
But Dambly and three other trustees interviewed Thursday on the Penn State campus said they still intended to honor Paterno's accomplishments and contributions to the school. He won a Division I record 409 games over 46 seasons and the Paterno family has donated millions of dollars to the school.
"Obviously Joe Paterno is a worldwide icon and has done a tremendous amount for the university," trustee Joel Myers said. "We have sorrow and all kinds of emotions, empathy, sympathy for what has occurred. That's universal.
"But the university, this institution is greater than one person."
An attorney for Paterno on Thursday called the board's comments self-serving and unsupported by the facts. Paterno fully reported what he knew to the people responsible for campus investigations, lawyer Wick Sollers said.
"He did what he thought was right with the information he had at the time," Sollers said.
The trustees spoke out ahead of Friday's board meeting, their first gathering since November and the frantic week after criminal charges were filed against Sandusky, once heralded as the architect for the storied program's "Linebacker U." defense.
The trustees described the long deliberations in the days leading up to Paterno's ouster as emotional and nerve wracking, echoing the confusion and anguish also felt among students and alumni as the scandal unfolded. They were shocked by the lurid details that had emerged about the case that week, after having been given a short briefing about Sandusky months earlier by school President Graham Spanier and general counsel Cynthia Baldwin. That session lasted roughly 7 minutes and provided few insights, trustees said.
Paterno was dismissed the same day Spanier also departed under pressure. The board initiated an internal investigation into the Sandusky case and the role of Penn State officials.
Since then, some alumni and former players have been questioning the actions of the trustees. The criticism boiled over in three town hall-style meetings last week hosted for alumni by new school President Rodney Erickson.
According to Dambly, trustees had been advised not to speak because of the ongoing investigations but changed their minds following the town halls.
They began a series of interviews this week with media outlets. Also sitting in Thursday's interview with the AP was Lanny Davis, a prominent Washington attorney who has been retained by Erickson and the trustees as an adviser.
"It was clear that the alumni, students, faculty and general public were asking questions of the president that he was unable to answer," Dambly said. "We determined as a group that the Board of Trustees needed to answer the questions of what we knew, when we knew it and why we made the decisions that we made."
The trustees on Thursday cited three reasons for Paterno's immediate removal as head coach. Besides the moral obligation to do more in conjunction with reporting the 2002 allegation and statements issued by Paterno they felt may have challenged trustees' authority, the trustees also said there was concern that Paterno would not be able to properly represent the school if allowed to stay on as head coach the rest of the 2011 season.
On Nov. 6, as trustees began to arrive in State College in the wake of Sandusky's arrest, some were surprised by a statement from Paterno made without consulting the university, trustee Stephanie Deviney said. At the time, Paterno's son, lawyer Scott Paterno, had been also speaking on behalf of his father.