Undignified ending for Penn State's legendary leader

storapse@aol.comNovember 10, 2011 

How the mighty have fallen.

A year ago next week, two college football coaching icons -- Ohio State's Jim Tressel and Penn State's Joe Paterno -- shook hands after the Buckeyes beat the Nittany Lions, 38-14. No one suspected that 12 months later they would both have their legacies and reputations badly tarnished.

Tressel resigned prior to the 2011 season after failing to report violations of NCAA rules by at least a half dozen players. Tressel admitted withholding information and lying to keep Buckeye players on the field.

On Wednesday, Paterno announced he would retire at the end of the season after 46 unparalleled years. The school's board of trustees weren't willing to let him last that long, firing him Wednesday night. He was brought down because he failed to do all he could about an allegation of child sex abuse against a former assistant coach.

Tressel's transgressions were centered on winning football games. Paterno's had to do with what was morally right.

"This is a tragedy," Paterno said Wednesday. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

Of course, Paterno refers to Jerry Sandusky, who has been charged by a grand jury with sex crimes against eight boys in 15 years. There are questions about how much Paterno knew or should have known about one of the eight cases, a 10-year-old allegedly sodomized by Sandusky in one of the team showers in 2002.

After he was made aware of the incident by a young graduate assistant coach, Paterno reported it to his immediate boss, athletic director Tim Curley.

There is a strong feeling that Paterno should have done more -- like notifying the police. Especially in view of the fact that Sandusky was allowed to remain on campus and allegedly kept molesting kids after Paterno received the initial accusation.

How could Paterno not have done more? That question will hang out there until the coach answers the familiar, "What did he know and when did he know it?"

In reading Joe Pa's statement Wednesday there is certainly a very strong hint that he wishes he could turn back the clock.

"I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case," he said. "I grieve for the children and their families and I pray for their comfort and relief."

I find it hard to understand why Paterno didn't think of those children and their families when that graduate assistant told him about the shower incident nine years ago.

It is important to remember that in a place known as Happy Valley, Paterno has been Master and King. At age 84 he has built a sqeaky-clean reputation with good works and deeds. One word from Joe Pa and Sandusky would have been history.

Instead, the winningest coach in college football history (409 victories) is about to exit in disgrace.

Say, it ain't so, Joe.

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