Paterno was ousted Wednesday night by Penn State’s board of trustees _ even though he’d said earlier in the day he would retire at the end of his 46th season _ fired because he didn’t do enough to stop a child sex abuse-scandal centered around Sandusky. The architect of Linebacker U and Paterno’s most trusted assistant for most of three decades, Sandusky is charged with molesting eight boys between 1994 and 2009.
“Completely floored. I would’ve never imagined this,” said Buffalo Bills safety Bryan Scott, who played at Penn State from 1999-2002 and roomed with Sandusky’s son, Jon, on road trips his freshman year.
“He was a stand-up guy the way he interacted with the team,” Scott said, “and even around the kids.”
Indeed, there was a time when Sandusky, who through his lawyer denies the charges against him, was revered in these parts.
A defensive end at Penn State from 1963-66, he returned in 1969 and spent the next three decades on Paterno’s staff, the last 22 as defensive coordinator. Paterno and his old-school values gave Penn State its identity, from the plain blue-and-white jerseys without names to the impressive graduation rate and squeaky-clean reputation.
But it was Sandusky’s defensive wizardry that gave the Nittany Lions their bite.
Paterno likely would not have won national titles from 1982 and 1986 without Sandusky. Vinny Testaverde probably still has nightmares about the Nittany Lions after Sandusky’s defense picked him off five times and forced two fumbles in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, a 14-10 win that gave Penn State its second national title in five years.
Of the 43 first-team All-Americans Penn State had from 1977, when Sandusky took control of the defense, to 1999, when he retired, 18 were defensive players. He churned out one NFL-caliber linebacker after another: Jack Ham, Matt Millen, Shane Conlan, LaVar Arrington, just to name a few.
“I owed my success in college to Jer’s unique ability to identify our strengths and alter his game plans to fit what we all were good at,” Arrington said Monday in the blog he writes for the Washington Post. “… His ability to teach, in my opinion, was amazing and unmatched.”
But an entire stadium doesn’t give an assistant coach a standing ovation, like Sandusky got at his final home before he retired in 1999, regardless of how great his schemes are. Not even here.
No, the affection and admiration for Sandusky was equally rooted in what appeared to be his selfless devotion to troubled kids.
Sandusky’s father, Art, had run the Brownson House Recreation Center in his hometown of Washington, Pa., spending so much time with the neighborhood youth that he eventually moved his wife and a young Jerry into an apartment in the building. His father’s dedication left an impression, Sandusky said, and he started The Second Mile charity in 1977.
The foundation provided education and life skills to almost 100,000 at-risk kids each year, and had the support of prominent names in Pennsylvania athletics. Numerous Nittany Lions players and coaches pitched in to help, and its honorary board of directors included not just Paterno, but golfing great Arnold Palmer and retired Pittsburgh Steelers star Franco Harris.
Sandusky appeared to take a personal interest in the lives of dozens of children, bringing them to Penn State practices and games and introducing them to the players who were idolized in this small community. The door to his house was always open, to say nothing of an extra place at the dinner table.