STATE COLLEGE, PA. — In the lobby of the Penn Stater hotel, they stood vigil — reporters, cameramen, students, alumni, residents and a few tipsy hotel bar patrons. It was Nov. 9, 2011, shortly before 9 p.m., and the throng awaited the decision of the Pennsylvania State University board of trustees. Behind the closed doors of Room 206, the 32 men and women charged with navigating the worst crisis in Penn State’s 156-year history were on the verge of a painstaking but seemingly unavoidable verdict.
Near the back of a conference room littered with coffee cups and plates of half-eaten fudge brownies and chocolate-chip cookies, a 79-year-old trustee and philanthropist named Mimi Coppersmith stood up and beseeched her colleagues to reconsider what they were poised to do. “Coach Paterno is revered here in State College,” she said.
From the speaker of a nearby telephone, a distinctive voice chimed in: “Remember the children. Remember that little boy in the shower.” The voice belonged to Thomas W. Corbett Jr., the governor of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a member of the board of trustees. Corbett was participating in his first meeting, but he had the last word.
Surma then asked whether any trustee objected to the firing of coach Joe Paterno.
The question was met with silence.