Buried in the statement Joe Paterno released Wednesday morning announcing that he planned to retire at the end of this season was the final piece of evidence, if you were one of the few who still needed it, that the man had to be removed from his head-coaching job immediately.
“That’s why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season,” it read. “At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.”
Paterno — on the heels of a scandal involving allegations that Jerry Sandusky, his former defensive coordinator, serially abused young boys, and that Paterno did not do enough to put a stop to that abuse when alerted in 2002 — was issuing instructions to the Board of Trustees?
Shame on him. The proper path forward was clear: Joe had to go. Now. Today. Without another moment to lose.
And the Penn State Board of Trustees did just that Wednesday night, firing Paterno and school president Graham Spanier immediately.
It was the right call.
Paterno’s statement earlier in the day showed a striking level of arrogance and cluelessness from the 84-year-old coach, a level of brazen obtuseness that has the chance of getting lost in the actual news: Yes, Joe Paterno, icon, football-coaching legend, face of Happy Valley, will not coach past this season.
But let’s not miss the news that matters: Joe Paterno — the man who held a pep rally on his lawn Tuesday night rather than answer questions about why he lived up to his legal responsibilities but not his moral responsibilities in 2002 when concerns about Sandusky’s behavior were brought to him — still had the gall to offer instructions to those trying to make sense of this horror.
Joe had to go. Now.
In the same statement, Paterno said he was devastated. That he prayed for the victims’ comfort and relief. That this is one of the great sorrows of his life.
I believe every word. Just as I believe Paterno thought he was entitled to hand out instructions to the leaders of the university he works for. A man so sure of his power, of his right in asserting himself so strongly at such a precarious time, surely could have protected those children nine years ago. Surely he could have. Surely he should have.
Joe had to go. Without a moment to lose.
“My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination,” the statement concluded. “And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this University.”
Here’s the thing, Joe. Your goals are now meaningless. Football has been put in its proper place, set into proper context by allegations that a man you granted access to your football program reportedly as late as last week — the man whose allegations of sex abuse drew you to testify to a grand jury 11 months ago — is accused of abusing at least eight kids over a 15-year span.
Or, if other reports are to be believed, allegedly abused many, many more in ways too grotesque to speak out loud.
As for spending the rest of your life doing all you can, Joe, well, start here: Stop making this about you. Stop issuing ultimatums. Stop thinking your tenure as football coach means a thing right now. Stop allowing misguided Penn State fans to direct their moral outrage in the wrong directions, toward anyone daring to criticize a legend.
You want to help, Joe? Start by recognizing that you have helped do more damage than you clearly know — to yourself, to your program and to the university you love so dearly. If you were sincere, then spending the rest of your life doing everything you can to help Penn State should have started with your immediate resignation.
Now that you’ve been removed, you should move on to the apologies — starting with how someone able to issue ultimatums at this time couldn’t even call the police nine years ago.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.