STATE COLLEGE — Joe Paterno’s tenure as coach of the Penn State football team will soon be over, perhaps within days or weeks, in the wake of a sex-abuse scandal that has implicated university officials, according to two people briefed on conversations among the university’s top officials.
The board of trustees has yet to determine the precise timing of Paterno’s exit, but it is clear that the man who has more victories than any other coach at college football’s top level and who made Penn State a prestigious national brand will not survive to coach another season. Discussions about how to manage his departure have begun, according to the two people.
Paterno was to have held a news conference Tuesday but the university canceled it less than an hour before it was scheduled to start.
At age 84 and with 46 seasons as the Penn State head coach behind him, Paterno’s extraordinary run of success — one that produced tens of millions of dollars for the school and two national championships, and that established him as one of the nation’s most revered leaders, will end with a stunning and humiliating final chapter.
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Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator under Paterno, has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys across a 15-year period, and Paterno has been widely criticized for failing to involve the police when he learned of an allegation of one assault of a young boy in 2002.
Additionally, two top university officials — Gary Schultz, the senior vice president for finance and business, and Tim Curley, the athletic director — were charged with perjury and failure to report to authorities what they knew of the allegations, as required by state law.
Since Sandusky’s arrest Saturday, Penn State — notably its president, Graham Spanier, and Paterno — have come under withering criticism for a failure to act adequately after learning, at different points over the years, that Sandusky might have been abusing children. Newspapers have called for their resignations; prosecutors have suggested their inaction led to more children being harmed by Sandusky; and students and faculty at the university have expressed a mix of disgust and confusion, and a hope that much of what prosecutors have charged is not true.
On Monday law enforcement officials said that Paterno had met his legal obligation in alerting his superiors at the university when he learned of the 2002 allegation against Sandusky. But they suggested he might well have failed a moral test for what to do when confronted with such a disturbing allegation involving a child not even in his teens. No one at the university alerted the police or pursued the matter to determine the well-being of the child involved. The identity of that child remains unknown, according to the Attorney General.
Paterno has not been charged in the matter, but his failure to report to authorities what he knew about the 2002 incident, in which Sandusky allegedly sexually assaulted a young boy at Penn State’s football complex, has become a flashpoint, stirring anger among the board members and an outpouring of public criticism about his handling of the matter.
In recent days Paterno has lost the support of many board members, and their conversations illustrate a decisive shift in the power structure at the university. In 2004, for instance, Paterno brushed off a request by the university president that he step down.
Paterno came to Penn State in 1950 as a 23-year-old assistant coach making $3,600 a year. He planned to stay for two seasons, to pay off his student loans from Brown University, where he earned a degree in English literature.
He became the head coach in 1966, and he has been widely credited with helping spearhead the Penn State football program and the rest of the university from a local enterprise into a national brand. Along the way, Beaver Stadium grew to 108,000 seats from 29,000 and Penn State’s endowment grew from virtually nothing to more than $1 billion.
What separated Paterno from many of his coaching peers until this week was that he did this with few questions about how he grew the program. Penn State’s lofty graduation rates and education-first ideals, known as Paterno’s Grand Experiment, became as synonymous with the program as its plain uniforms and dominating defenses.
Paterno led Penn State to national titles in the 1982 and 1986 seasons, and he complemented the on-field success with the reputation of a throwback sideline professor, whose tie, thick glasses and black Nike coaching shoes became as predictable in Northeast autumns as the changing foliage.
Paterno’s reach on campus extended well beyond the football program. He and his wife, Sue, have donated more than $4 million to the university. On campus, everything from an ice cream flavor at the Creamery to a library now bears his name.
“There’s no individual in the entire 120- or 130-year history of the university that has had a greater impact on the institution than Joe Paterno,” Larry Foster, a former trustee and a president of the alumni association, told The New York Times in 2004. “He’s just reached into so many areas.”