STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - Penn State football coach Joe Paterno will retire at the end of the season, his long and illustrious career brought down because he failed to do all he could about an allegation of child sex abuse against a former assistant.
“This is a tragedy,” Paterno said in a statement Wednesday. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”
Paterno has been besieged by criticism since former defensive coordinator and one-time heir apparent Jerry Sandusky was charged over the weekend with molesting eight young boys between 1994 and 2009. Athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with failing to notify authorities after an eyewitness reported a 2002 assault.
Paterno decided to retire at age 84, in his 46th season with the Nittany Lions. He won 409 games, a record for major college football, but now, the grandfatherly coach known as “Joe Pa,” who had painstakingly burnished a reputation for winning “the right way,” leaves the only school he’s ever coached in disgrace.
“I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case,” he said. “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. I have the same goal today,” Paterno said.
“That’s why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. 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 hasn’t been accused of legal wrongdoing. But he has been assailed, in what the state police commissioner called a lapse of “moral responsibility,” for not doing more to stop Sandusky, whose attorney maintains his client is innocent.
Paterno has been questioned for his apparent failure to follow up on a report of the 2002 incident, in which Sandusky allegedly sodomized a 10-year-old boy in the showers at the team’s football complex. A witness, Mike McQueary, is currently receivers coach for the team but was a graduate assistant at the time.
Paterno told the athletic director, Tim Curley, who has since stepped down and has charged with lying to the state grand jury investigating the case. The Penn State vice president has also been charged, and the university president could follow.
But in the place known as Happy Valley, none held the same status as Paterno. And in the end, he could not withstand the backlash from a scandal that goes well beyond the everyday stories of corruption in college sports.
The coach initially defended his decision to take the abuse report to his athletic director and not prosecutors. Paterno said it was obvious the graduate student was “distraught,” but said he wasn’t told about the “very specific actions” in the grand jury report.
After Paterno reported the incident to Curley, Sandusky was told to stay away from the school, but critics say the coach should have done more _ tried to identify and help the victim, for example, or alerted authorities.
“I think it’s the right thing,” Penn State freshman Jake Schur said. “He didn’t do what he should have. He’s doing the right thing by stepping down to preserve the Penn State football program.