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The Early Lead
Posted at 03:02 PM ET, 03/12/2012

Joe Paterno fired for “failure of leadership,” Penn State trustees say (updated)

Updated at 4:38 p.m., with Paterno family statement

The Penn State Board of Trustees has issued a statement to re-iterate what its members have said before: they chose to fire Joe Paterno as football coach because of an alleged failure to follow up on a report of alleged child sex abuse by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

Paterno, who died Jan. 22, told the Post’s Sally Jenkins that “In hindsight, I wish I had done more” when he was told of alleged abuse by assistant coach Mike McQueary in 2002. Trustees “determined that his decision to do his minimum legal duty and not to do more to follow up constituted a failure of leadership by Coach Paterno,” they wrote on the university’s website. They said they decided to fire university president Graham Spanier for the same reason.

Paterno’s firing came shortly after Sandusky was indicted by a grand jury on multiple counts of child sex abuse in November and neither Paterno nor Spanier was under investigation. Although Paterno initially said that he would step down after the season by saying “the board should not spend a single minute discussing my status,” it opted to fire him.

Ever since that decision, trustees have faced a barrage of criticism from students and alumni, particularly over the decision to deliver the news to the then 84-year-old in a 10 p.m. telephone call. In an interview with Sally Jenkins in January, Paterno’s wife, Sue, said she told the trustee who delivered the news, “After 61 years he deserved better,. he deserved better.”

Wick Sollers, who represents the Paterno family, issued a statement on their behalf late this afternoon:

“The Paterno family is surprised and saddened that the Board of Trustees believes it is necessary and appropriate to explain — for the fourth or fifth time — why they fired Joe Paterno so suddenly and unjustifiably on Nov 9, 2011.

“The latest statement is yet another attempt by the Board to deflect criticism of their leadership by trying to focus the blame on Joe Paterno. This is not fair to Joe's legacy; it is not consistent with the facts; and it does not serve the best interests of the University. The Board's latest statement reaffirms that they did not conduct a thorough investigation of their own and engaged in a rush to judgment.

“At various times University officials have said that they fired Joe Paterno. At other times they have said they didn't fire him.  hey have simultaneously accused him of moral and leadership failures, and praised him for the high standards he set for the University. 

“The tough questions that have yet to be addressed relate not to Joe Paterno, but to the Board. Two months ago, as Joe Paterno was dying, the Board conducted a series of media interviews condemning him for “moral” failures. Now they are trying a different tack and accusing him of “leadership” failures. The question we would ask is simply this, when will the Board step up and acknowledge that the ultimate responsibility for this crisis is theirs? Everyone who cares about Penn State is longing for strong, courageous, honest leadership. Today's statement is anything but that.” 

The trustees, in their statement, explained their reasoning: “Because Coach Paterno’s home was surrounded by media representatives, photographers and others, we did not believe there was a dignified, private and secure way to send Board representatives to meet with him there. Nor did we believe it would be wise to wait until the next morning, since we believed it was probable that Coach Paterno would hear the news beforehand from other sources, which would be inappropriate.”

The board said it chose to issue another statement today because of continuing questions from alumni and students. “Many people have indicated that they did not understand, and this is our last attempt to try to make it as clear as possible,” trustee Keith Eckel told the Associated Press, “and people are welcome to agree or disagree with us.”

More from Washington Post Sports

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The death of Joe Paterno

Federal investigation is underway

The case against Sandusky: a timeline

Sandusky can see grandchildren

Sandusky wants jurors in trial to be chosen from State College area

Prosecutors want Sandusky kept indoors over complaint

Mike McQueary testifies at preliminary hearing for PSU administrators

Sandusky waives his right to a hearing, pleads not guilt

By  |  03:02 PM ET, 03/12/2012

 
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