At first, David Mullaly hoped to be anonymous.
But Saturday, he stepped into the light as his Rally for Resignations drew about 1,000 people to Penn State’s Old Main lawn to contest the university leadership’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The retired schoolteacher and 1969 Penn State graduate stood on the Old Main steps in the shadows of better-known figures, such as former football standout Franco Harris and firebrand trustee Anthony Lubrano.
He was upstaged by Eileen Morgan, a 1990 Penn State graduate, who read aloud a letter to the trustees that she recently paid to have published as a full-page advertisement in the Centre Daily Times.
Mullaly even took a back seat to a cardboard cut-out of the late Joe Paterno that stood on the steps throughout the rally.
But Mullaly was no longer the invisible man, instead emerging as a figure who longs to help lead an uprising to restore Penn State’s reputation in the wake of the damning Freeh report and severe NCAA sanctions.
“The only reason I care about Penn State is because of what it represented,” Mullaly said after the rally. “We have a decent and honorable university and athletics program that does things the right way.”
He added: “I was delighted by the program I was able to put together, the people who were willing to step forward. It was a good sandwich, I think, with Franco at the beginning and Lubrano at the end.”
Several speakers bemoaned the Penn State board of trustees’ responses to allegations against Sandusky in early 2011, and the grand jury presentment last November.
“This is not a fringe perspective,” Mullaly said. “This is, I believe, the mainstream.”
Mullaly insists the Rally for Resignations was not about the firing of Joe Paterno on Nov. 9. The longtime coach died in January, and the NCAA stripped away all of Penn State’s wins from 1998 through 2011 among its penalties against the university and its football program.
Many in the crowd Saturday wore T-shirts or waved towels proclaiming “409” as Paterno’s wins total, even though the NCAA now recognizes only 298 Paterno victories, with 111 wiped out by the sanctions.
“I didn’t want this to be just about Joe,” Mullaly said. “There are many battles to fight, and that’s another one.
“And I didn’t want everything to be about football,” he said. “I didn’t want us to look like we’re just football-crazed people, as the NCAA says, because we’re not.”
Mullaly said he was reminded of the role of the colonists in the struggle against British rule that led to a new nation.
“During the Revolutionary War, farmers and cobblers and people who had never done anything stood up,” he said.
“I’m not saying this is comparable to the Revolutionary War. But this university is in a crisis, probably the deepest crisis in Penn State’s history. And right now we need people who are willing to stand up.”
If this is a Penn State revolution, Mullaly’s Paul Revere-like call to action wasn’t made from the back of a horse, but rather through modern vehicles such as social media.
He got the word about the rally started through Facebook. He then discussed the plan with some news media outlets, including this newspaper.
And Mullaly wanted to remain anonymous until the rally. He said Saturday that he may have been “a bit paranoid” that the university would come after him directly in an attempt to squash this uprising.
Instead, a few police officers watched the peaceful-but-spirited proceedings from a distance, as the rally went on as planned.
A week ago, Mullaly was angry that a certain newspaper editor insisted on publishing his name. After all, Mullaly was planning a public event calling for the resignations of various public figures.
By Saturday, Mullaly admitted that we did him a favor by attaching his identity to the rally, and by ultimately refusing his wish to remain anonymous.
Now he hopes the movement gains momentum thanks to Saturday’s gathering.
“Well ... I’m out,” he said with a laugh. “And I hope this isn’t the last thing.”
Chip Minemyer is the executive editor of the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at 231-4640. Follow him on Twitter @MinemyerChip