Rush to judgment: Penn State trustee recounts decision to fire Coach Joe Paterno


Posted on March 10th, 2013 in News and Commentary

“Let me be clear – we got this wrong.”

“None of us are proud of how we handled this.”

by Bill Keisling

Penn State trustee Stephanie Nolan Deviney is up for reelection to the school’s governing Board of Trustees. On March 9, on her webpage, she responded to the following question: What was your thought process with respect to Coach Paterno?

“PLEASE NOTE: THE THOUGHTS BELOW ARE MY OWN, NOT THAT OF THE BOARD.  EACH BOARD MEMBER HAS THEIR OWN REASON FOR MAKING THE DECISION.  I DO NOT SPEAK FOR THEM.  ALSO, I AM NOT TRYING TO LAY BLAME OR MAKE EXCUSES.  I AM ONLY TRYING TO ANSWER THE QUESTIONS YOU HAVE ASKED.

“Saturday, November 5, 2011, I received an email from a fellow PSU grad at approximately 3 p.m. with a messaging along the lines of ‘I bet you never thought you signed up for this!’ There was also an email from the university scheduling a conference call. Realizing something was going on I googled ‘Penn State’. This is how I learned the news.

“I immediately searched the web and found the presentment. I read the entire thing by our 5 p.m. call. When I read the presentment my initial reaction was that we needed to determine who knew what and when. The Presentment stated that Coach Paterno had been told of activity “of a sexual nature” between Sandusky and a young boy. During our call we planned a meeting for 7 p.m. the next evening.

“When I arrived at Old Main I was given a press release that had been issued by the Paternos. I asked if the press release had been run by anyone at the university before it was issued. I was told it had not been run by the university. When the decision was made to cancel the regularly scheduled press conference, there was no agreement with this decision. Instead, the press was told to stay tuned as plans were in the works for an off campus press conference (no such conference ever took place).

“At that time it was clear that the university’s interests and Coach Paterno’s interests were not aligned. We should have been working together on this issue – the biggest crisis the university had ever faced. Rather, we were two ships not communicating with one another. I did not think these actions were in the best interests of the university. My decision to remove Coach Paterno as head coach was largely based on the events that transpired after the presentment was issued.

“The trustees had a call on Tuesday night during which time I thought we would decide what actions to take with respect to Coach Paterno and Graham Spanier. However, many trustees thought that such a decision could not be made over the phone. Rather, we needed to be face to face, to look each other in the eye, to read each other’s body language in making such a monumental decision. We agreed to make the decision on Wednesday night when we met in person.

“I could not sleep that night as the decisions weighed heavily on my mind. I did not know what other trustees were going to decide. I appreciate all this University has done for the Commonwealth. I appreciate all Joe Paterno has done for Penn State. I understood what Penn State meant to so many people. I understood the magnitude of the decisions we would make the next day. No matter what we decided, we would forever change people’s lives, Penn State, and history. This decision was left in the hands of 32 people. I was one of them.

“On Wednesday Coach Paterno announced his retirement without consulting with the university.   

“By Wednesday evening none of the trustees thought that the football season could go on “business as usual” with Coach Paterno on the sidelines and in front of the press. As such, we made the decision to remove him as head coach for the remainder of the season. We did honor his contract. Yes, I have seen the letter that Cynthia Baldwin sent to him. It should not have been sent to him.

“It seems so clear now that the university and Coach Paterno should have been speaking to each other and working with each other during those five days. Looking back it seems unbelievable that neither side communicated with one another. I often think of how things might have been different if any small changes were made that week. Posnanski recently wrote that after reading the presentment, Coach Paterno’s own family told him that he might have to face the possibility of never coaching another game. Under such circumstances it saddens me that we didn’t find a way to handle this better. We both should have been working together. When we made out decision, it was around 9 p.m. at night. It has also been widely reported why we made the decision to call his home. First, there were news vans and students surrounding his home. We did not think it was appropriate to have such a message be delivered so publicly. It surely would have been caught on camera. No one would have liked that either. Second, we did not think we could wait until the morning as many details of our meetings that week were reaching the press. The last thing we wanted was for Coach Paterno to hear the news from the press. Let me be clear – we got this wrong.

“I agree 100 percent with Sue Paterno’s statement – Joe Paterno did deserve more.”  (sorry, Stephanie, too little too late–where have you been for the past year and a half?  Why were you and Paul Suhey not out there with McCombie and Lubrano asking the important questions?)

“Every board member has a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for all that Joe Paterno and his family did, and continue to do, for our university. He influenced and molded countless men. He and Sue were generous with their time, money, and talent. You may wonder how we could all feel this way and still remove him as head coach but as fiduciaries we had to make the decisions in the best interests of the University.”

editor note:  it is my opinion that the Board of Trustees (John Surma) had a vendetta against Joe Paterno to not only fire him but to destroy his reputation, and that was the goal (not necessarily known by the general board membership).

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