Dave Joyner made the right decision in stepping down as Penn State’s athletics director after nearly three years in that challenging position.
The job was never going to be good for him, despite his best efforts, and a clean break eventually will be best for Penn State.
Despite a series of strong hires and other solid decisions, Joyner would forever be associated with the Penn State trustees’ decision to remove Joe Paterno as coach in the days after the grand jury report accusing Jerry Sandusky of sex crimes against children.
Joyner was a member of the board of trustees in November 2011, when that scandal exploded.
After then-athletic director Tim Curley was placed on administrative leave due to allegations against him connected with Sandusky, Joyner was asked to step into that role on a stop-gap basis by interim President Rodney Erickson.
Penn State trustees Vice Chairman Paul Silvis noted that a national search in 2011 was not possible because Curley was not dismissed.
“Dave stepped up at a critical time in the university’s history,” Silvis said. “He served diligently and passionately.”
Through what new Penn State President Eric Barron characterized as “three years of hard service,” Joyner was among those vilified in some circles for his role in Paterno’s ouster and the ensuing Freeh report and NCAA sanctions.
“He stepped in at a critical moment,” Barron told the Centre Daily Times on Tuesday. “Everybody tells me he did it because he cares deeply for the university. And I get the distinct impression he is stepping aside because he cares about the institution.”
Give Joyner credit for helping the department of intercollegiate athletics navigate stormy seas following the Sandusky bombshell. That includes the heavy NCAA sanctions that could have crippled the football program, and other sports by extension.
He was able to retain women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington in 2012, when she flirted with Michigan.
Give him credit for helping bring in Bill O’Brien, a surprise successor to Paterno. Before jumping to the NFL, O’Brien handled a challenging two-year stint by tackling tough questions well and fielding a competitive football team despite reduced scholarships.
The Pegula Ice Arena was completed and opened during Joyner’s tenure.
And give Joyner credit for leading the effort to bring James Franklin to Penn State from Vanderbilt. He hasn’t coached a real game yet, but Franklin has infused the football program and athletics with an infectious energy.
Following the announcement that he would leave his post effective Aug. 1, Joyner deflected praise and accepted his fate in an interview with the Centre Daily Times.
As has happened throughout his tenure, he was applauded by colleagues and supervisors and criticized in web comments and blogs.
“I always tried to do what was the right thing,” Joyner said. “People might not always agree.”
Barron and the university are now free to recruit the next AD from what the president believes will be a deep, national pool of candidates.
And Joyner is free to spend time with his family and to reflect on a lifetime in Penn State sports.
“I feel good about where Penn State is, whatever small role I’ve played,” Joyner said.
He deserves to be acknowledged for his work to see the athletics department through a difficult time.
And by stepping aside, Joyner is helping Penn State continue the process of moving forward.