High-ranking official says support for Paterno on Penn State board of trustees eroding quickly

  • Article by: GENARO C. ARMAS , Associated Press
  • Updated: November 9, 2011 - 3:11 AM

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Joe Paterno has overshadowed everyone and everything at Penn State for nearly half a century.

Now, support for keeping the Hall of Fame coach in the job he's held for 46 seasons is "eroding." A day that began with the university abruptly canceling Paterno's regularly scheduled news conference because of "ongoing legal circumstances" ended with the board of trustees promising a thorough investigation of the "circumstances" that led to the indictments of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky in a sex-abuse scandal, and two university officials in a cover-up.

In between, students went to Paterno's home in a show of support.

"It's hard for me to say how much this means to me," Paterno told the hundreds of fans who gathered for the raucous, impromptu rally Tuesday night. "I've lived for this place, I've lived for people like you guys and girls, and I'm just so happy to see that you feel so strongly about us and about your school."

Asked if he was still Penn State's coach, the 84-year-old Paterno did not answer. A young woman who accompanied him outside and stood with her arm around him said, "Now is not the time."

Sandusky, who spent three decades on the Penn State staff before retiring in 1999, was accused of molesting eight young boys between 1994 and 2009. The 67-year-old's next hearing, initially scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed and has not been rescheduled. Athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with failing to notify authorities after an eyewitness reported a 2002 assault.

Paterno, who earns about $1 million annually, has been Penn State's head coach since 1966 and part of the Nittany Lions staff for more than six decades. Penn State has won two national championships under Paterno, and largely avoided the run-ins with the NCAA that have embarrassed other Division I powerhouses.

Much of that has been a credit to Paterno, whose old-school values permeate every corner of the program. The team generates millions of dollars each year in revenues from attendance, TV rights and sponsorships, but it has stubbornly stuck with the basic white-and-blue uniforms that are now among the most recognizable in college football. Penn State's graduation rate is traditionally one of the best, and the Nittany Lions tied Stanford for the best mark (87 percent) among the top 25 teams in the BCS standings when the most recent study was released late last month.

All those things have inspired pride in the region and fierce loyalty to Paterno, who is the winningest coach in major college football and one of the most respected in any sport.

That lofty status, however, has been the subject of heated arguments in recent days, among students on campus, construction workers on the street and the PSU board of trustees.

Much of the criticism surrounding Paterno has concerned his apparent failure to follow up on a report of the 2002 incident, in which Sandusky allegedly sodomized a 10-year-old boy in the showers at the team's football complex. A witness, Mike McQueary, is currently receivers coach for the team but was a graduate assistant at the time.

McQueary told Paterno about the incident the next day, and the coach notified Curley and Schultz, who in turn notified Penn State president Graham Spanier. Curley and Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report the incident to authorities, as required by state law.

Both men, as well as Paterno, testified that they were told that Sandusky behaved inappropriately in that 2002 incident, but not to the extent of McQueary's graphic account to a state grand jury.

The same grand jury decided the testimony from Curley and Schultz, whose job at the time also gave him oversight of the campus police, were not believable. Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly said Paterno is not a target of the investigation, although the state police commissioner has chastised him and other Penn State officials for not doing enough to try to stop the suspected abuse.

"The kids that were the victims ... I think we all ought to say a prayer for them," Paterno said Tuesday night at his house.

The board will appoint the investigating committee at its meeting Friday, already scheduled before the scandal came to light during the weekend. The committee will examine "what failures occurred and who is responsible," and the board promised those responsible would be held "fully accountable."

"We are committed to restoring public trust in the university," the board's statement concluded.

A person familiar with the trustees' discussions said support for Paterno was "eroding," but couldn't gauge whether the board would take action. The same person said Spanier has also lost support ahead of Friday's meeting, which Gov. Tom Corbett said he plans to attend. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Earlier Tuesday, Paterno's son, Scott, said his father was disappointed over Spanier's decision to cancel the news conference. Addressing reporters outside his parents' house, Scott said Joe was prepared to answer questions about Sandusky — who maintains he is innocent — and further that his father plans to be Penn State's coach not only for Saturday's game against Nebraska, but for the long haul.

Before Paterno turned to go back into his house Tuesday night, he raised his fist three times and yelled, "We are ..."

The crowd replied, "Penn State!"

"And we'll always be Penn Staters!" Paterno said.

___

AP sports writers Nancy Armour and Jim Litke in State College and AP writers Mark Scolforo, Justin Pritchard and Justin Pope and AP researcher Judith Ausuebel contributed to this story.

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