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Published: Thursday, 11/10/2011

Penn State president, coach are out


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In five stunning days, a child sex-abuse scandal that engulfed Pennsylvania's flagship public university led to the departure Wednesday of Penn State University President Graham Spanier and its legendary football coach, Joe Paterno.

At a late night news conference that followed an emergency closed-door session on campus, John Surma, board of trustees vice chairman, said Mr. Spanier was no longer president by mutual agreement and that Mr. Paterno had been fired.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Paterno issued a statement saying that he would retire, but not until the end of the football season. But the trustees decided Wednesday night that Mr. Paterno's career should end immediately.

"We thought that because of the difficulties that have engulfed the university, and they are great, that it was necessary for us to make a change and set a course for new leadership," Mr. Surma said.

Both men had faced intensifying criticism over the university's failure to report to law enforcement authorities allegations that former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted a boy in a locker room shower of the football building on campus in 2002.

Rodney Erickson, longtime university provost, will serve as interim president, and Tom Bradley will become the acting head football coach, Mr. Surma said.

Mr. Surma said leaders hope that students will view the change as being in the institution's best interest. However, within minutes of the announcement, some students were openly decrying the move and a crowd of hundreds was massing outside on campus.

Mr. Spanier, in a statement issued late Wednesday night, said he was honored to have served Penn State for 25 years, including 16 as president. But he acknowledged that it was time for a change in leadership.

"This University is a large and complex institution, and although I have always acted honorably and in the best interests of the University, the buck stops here. In this situation, I believe it is in the best interests of the University to give my successor a clear path for resolving the issues before us.

"I will always value the wonderful relationships that I have developed with the many thousands of Penn Staters, community leaders, and members of the higher education community throughout the country. I will continue to serve the University in every way possible and celebrate the greatness of Penn State," the statement said.

The events culminated a day of rapidly unfolding developments in a crisis that since Saturday has led to the arrest of Mr. Sandusky on child-sex charges and the arrest of two top Penn State administrators on charges that they perjured themselves before a state grand jury and that they failed to notify police of a sexual assault of a minor.

Wednesday's rapid-fire events began unfolding in the morning when Mr. Paterno issued a statement saying he would remain until season's end. He then traveled to the football building, where he broke down during an address to his team.

In another development late Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Education said it is entering the case. It will investigate whether Penn State failed to comply with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bil Schackner and Laura Olson are reporters for the Post-Gazette. Post-Gazette reporters Michael Sanserino and James O'Toole contributed to this report.

Contact Bill Schackner at: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.

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