Penn State trustees and Gov. Tom Corbett are disputing an ESPN report that paints a picture of the governor orchestrating the decision to dismiss Joe Paterno as coach, insisting Corbett did not tell the board what to do.
An ESPN The Magazine story published online presents a board that followed Corbett’s lead. It quotes a former football player as saying that Corbett said he told the board to fire Paterno.
It also quotes several anonymous trustees who questioned Corbett’s involvement.
But, when reached for comment, several trustees said they would have arrived at the same decision regardless of whether Corbett had participated. Some declined to comment and didn’t return messages seeking comment.
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“Corbett never told us what to do,” said Paul Silvis, a trustee who lives in Patton Township. “He voted and agreed with our decision.”
That decision was made and announced the night of Nov. 9 at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel after days of conference calls and closed-door meetings.
As governor, Corbett is an ex-officio trustee, and he participated in the Nov. 9 meeting by conference call. He has said he told the board that they should “remember the children.”
A spokesman for the Paterno family said the Paternos are reviewing the report and are “surprised and concerned.”
The report, which presents a power struggle that enveloped after Paterno’s firing between Penn State officials and the governor, references Corbett’s Feb. 8 interview with Johnstown TV station WJAC. The governor said the decision to fire Paterno was that of the trustees.
“The only thing I said is that they have to remember the children. People may have different memories, but I remember exactly what I said,” Corbett said.
But in the report, one unidentified trustee told ESPN “That is a bald-faced lie.”
The report further challenges the governor’s assertion with statements from Bob Capretto, a former Nittany Lion who told ESPN he asked the governor whose idea it was to fire Paterno and president Graham Spanier.
“And the governor said, ‘I told them to do it,’” Capretto told ESPN. “He was proud of it.”
Trustees have said they fired Paterno and Spanier for a lack of moral leadership in response to allegations of sexual abuse of boys by former football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Trustees Vice Chairman Keith Masser said he hadn’t read the article, so he couldn’t comment on the specifics. But he disagreed with the idea that Corbett was behind the decision to terminate Paterno.
“That’s not at all how I recall it,” Masser said.
He said Corbett asked some questions and made comments about what to consider.
“The governor didn’t influence the decision of the board,” he said.
A university spokesman referred to the board’s previous statement that the decision was made by the board collectively between Nov. 5 and 9.
Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley also criticized the article.
“ESPN’s report from the grassy knoll merely adds another chapter to the growing list of conspiracy theories surrounding the Sandusky case,” Harley said. “It is a disappointment to read something so long, filled with so many errors, that offers so little by way of new or even real fact.” Harley did not elaborate any further.
While the lengthy article revisited the broader events reported that week, it brought to light new pieces of information.
One is the certified letter sent to Paterno a week after he was terminated from his coaching position.
The letter, acquired by ESPN, tells Paterno “Pursuant to your termination on November 11, 2011, we are asking you to make the following arrangements.”
Those arrangements include returning Penn State property like office keys, a parking permit, a Penn State ID card, a cell phone and office equipment he used to work from home.
“A few weeks later, a university employee arrived at Paterno’s home and carted away a 25-year-old beige telephone and a dilapidated fax machine,” the article said.
Trustees have said Paterno was removed as coach, not terminated from the university. A spokesman for the university who requested his name not be used said the letter was generated by the personnel office and may have been issued by mistake.
Paterno was a tenured professor, and trustees have said they planned to make him a coach emeritus.
Another new piece of information in the report was the full text of a statement Paterno was set to give at what would have been his final press conference Nov. 8. The press conference was canceled about an hour before it was to begin and the statement wasn’t released until Wednesday.
In the statement, Paterno addresses the 2002 incident seen by then-grad assistant Mike McQueary that involved Sandusky in a Lasch Building shower with a young boy.
Among the other revelations:
•Mimi Barash Coppersmith, a trustee emerita, asked the trustees to reconsider the decision to end Paterno’s career as coach apparently right before the final decision was made. The article quotes her as saying, “Coach Paterno is revered here in State College.” Then-trustees vice chairman John Surma was described retorting, “We’re not going to drink the Kool- Aid. This is what we need to do.” Barash Coppersmith couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
•The Paterno family and the university are “wrangling” over $4.5 million that remained from Paterno’s last contract.
•The report features the image of the note given to Paterno to call Surma the night of Paterno’s firing. The note also appeared in a televised tribute to Paterno from Anthony Lubrano, a candidate for trustee.