STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- One of the longest and most distinguished coaching careers in college football history ended suddenly with the firing of Joe Paterno by Penn State's Board of Trustees Wednesday night. Paterno, who offered his resignation in the morning but said he wanted to finish this season, was joined on the unemployment line by university president Graham Spanier.
The move was in response to the arrest Saturday of Paterno's longtime former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and the release of a grand jury report alleging Sandusky sexually abused at least eight young boys.
Although neither Paterno nor Spanier has been charged with any criminal wrongdoing, Paterno received an eyewitness report of one alleged sexual assault in 2002 and just passed it up the chain of command. No one at Penn State pursued a criminal prosecution of Sandusky for that incident.
Speaking for the board, vice chairman John Surma said, "The past several days have been terrible, but the outrage we feel is nothing compared to the physical and psychological abuse that allegedly took place.''
Surma was pressed repeatedly for an explanation of why Paterno, who is tied with Amos Alonzo Stagg for most games ever coached at 448, was not allowed to coach the final home game against Nebraska Saturday at Beaver Stadium. Instead, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley was appointed to replace Paterno on an interim basis. Bradley succeeded Sandusky before the 1999 season.
"With the difficulties engulfing this university -- and they are grave as you all have documented,'' Surma said, "it was necessary to make a change now.''
Speaking at his house to a couple of dozen students, Paterno said, "Right now, I'm not the football coach, and that's something I have to get used to.''
Thousands of students flooded downtown State College, with some chanting 'We want Joe! We want Joe!" Some shook a lamp post and others tipped over a news van, kicking out its windows. Dozens of riot police were trying to restore order.
Paterno spent 62 seasons at Penn State, including 46 as head coach. His 1982 and 1986 teams won national championships.
Perhaps fearing the worst, the 84-year-old Paterno, who has a record 409 wins, attempted to make an end run around the board of trustees in the hope of going out with a shred of dignity. In his statement, released through a Washington-area public relations firm as opposed to being approved by Penn State, Paterno expressed regret he didn't do more to prevent Sandusky's alleged crimes.
"At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status,'' he said in the statement.
"They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can. This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.''
Early Wednesday morning, Paterno held a tearful meeting with his players to inform them he would retire after the season. But just before 4 p.m. he was driven from his home to the nearby practice facility to oversee preparations by the 8-1 Nittany Lions. It would be his last time in that role.
"This has been a pretty tough time for everyone at Penn State,'' senior safety Drew Astorino said. "We feel horrible for the victims and families.''
The abuse scandal broke with devastating effect Saturday when Sandusky was charged with molesting eight young boys between 1994 and 2009. Athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz were charged with perjury and failing to notify authorities after assistant coach Mike McQueary said he witnessed Sandusky allegedly abusing a 10-year-old. Curley requested a leave of absence, and Schultz resigned on Monday.
Now, Penn State is facing a U.S. Department of Education investigation into whether it violated the Clery Act by failing to report allegations of Sandusky's offenses.
"I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case,'' Paterno said in his statement. "I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief.
"I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care . . .
"My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination.'' The finish came much sooner than expected for a coach long used to having his way in Happy Valley.