Thousands of Penn State football fans took the streets last night at the announcement their long-term head coach Joe Paterno would be sacked with “immediate effect” for his role in the sex scandal which has rocked the university.
Penn State’s Board of Trustees also forced the resignation of president Graham Spanier after allegations that for years the school’s former football defence coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually abused young boys.
Joe Paterno, 84, had said he would retire at the end of the 2011 season but the trustees stepped in to tell the legendary coach he will never take charge of another game following the allegations of a cover up.
Assistant coach Tom Bradley has been named interim football coach while Penn State provost and Rodney Erickson will become interim president.
The announcement came as it emerged that federal officials will investigate whether Penn State officials violated federal law by failing to report alleged sexual abuse by the school’s former football defense coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Speaking at his house to a large gathering of students, Joe Paterno said: “Right now, I’m not the football coach, and that’s something I have to get used to.“
Joe Paterno then urged the students, who chanted “We want Joe back!”, to “go study” and “pray a little bit for those victims”. His wife Sue picked up a bouquet of flowers and addressed the crowd in tears, saying: “Thank you all for your support. We love you.”
Joe Paterno later issued a statement, which read: “I am disappointed with the Board of Trustees’ decision, but I have to accept it.”
Thousands of students flocked to the university’s Old Main building, in University Park, State College, to voice their displeasure at the decision to oust Joe Paterno, who has been head coach for nearly half a century.
Others gathered at Beaver Avenue, with student newspaper the Daily Collegian tweeting: “Can’t see any road that isn’t filled with students.”
They chanted “We love JoePa” and were described by onlookers as “emotional”. Lampposts and street signs were torn down and fireworks were set off. A bottle was thrown and hit a police officer in the head, the Daily Collegian reported.
A WTAJ news van was overturned on College Avenue to loud cheers. It led to an oil spill which required firefighters to clean up but when the arrived their truck was pelted with rocks.
Joe Paterno, one of the biggest names in American sports, had said in a statement today that the situation was a tragedy and “one of the great sorrows of my life”.
The case of Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator accused of years of abuse of boys that allegedly was covered up by school officials, has shaken the university and its football programme.
The education department confirmed it is launching a probe into whether there were violations of a federal law called the Clery Act.
It requires colleges and universities to publish and distribute information about criminal offences – including sex offences – that are reported to school authorities.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement: “If it turns out that some people at the school knew of the abuse and did nothing or covered it up, that makes it even worse. Schools and school officials have a legal and moral responsibility to protect children and young people from violence and abuse.”
Joe Paterno said yesterday: “I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case. I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief.”
Joe Paterno, in his 46th year as head coach of the Nittany Lions and winner of two national championships, has been criticized for not doing more to intervene when incidents of Sandusky’s abuse came to light in 2002.
“With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more,” Joe Paterno added.
Two former university officials – athletic director Tim Curley and finance official Gary Schultz – were charged on Monday with failing to alert police after they were told that Jerry Sandusky had been seen sodomising a young boy in the football locker room shower in 2002.
Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have also been charged with perjury in their statements to a grand jury.
They have stepped down from their positions at the university following an emergency meeting of the university’s Board of Trustees.
Lawyers for all three men have said their clients deny the charges and maintain their innocence.
Joe Paterno held a short meeting with coaching staff and players at the team’s football building today, which participants described to reporters as tearful and highly emotional.
Many students have rallied around the coach, who with his thick, black-rimmed glasses and blue windbreaker has been the face of Penn State football for generations.
On Tuesday night, several thousand gathered in front of Joe Paterno’s home before racing through downtown streets, often chanting football slogans, to the white-columned administration building to support their coach and defend the university.
Joe Paterno’s sacking comes as anticipation builds for Saturday, when Penn State is due to take an 8-1 record into its final home game of the season against the University of Nebraska.