University leaders continue to navigate tricky issues as they try rebuild Penn State’s image. In the eyes of some national columnists, anonymous message-board posters and other critics outside Pennsylvania or the Penn State community, Paterno’s name has been forever soiled.
A survey of alumni conducted for the school by an external public relations firm found that more than eight in 10 alumni remained positive toward Penn State, though that’s down from nine in 10 in 2009. The survey also found that “recent events” still had a negative impact overall on the feelings of alumni, though the impact was less pronounced in December than in the last survey taken in May.
About 75 percent of respondents also said the school should publicly recognize Paterno for his decades of service to the school, down from 87 percent in May. The survey of 1,172 alumni was taken online and over the telephone, with a margin of error that was 2.86 percent.
“We still have an overwhelming majority of people who say he should be honored,” said trustee Anthony Lubrano, who has long voiced support for Paterno and his family. He joined the board last summer with the backing of alumni critical of trustees who fired Paterno.
“It’s important for us to address if we’re going to heal and move forward,” Lubrano said.
At the least, the football program that appeared to be in peril after the sanctions has regained its footing under Paterno’s successor, Bill O’Brien. The former New England Patriots offensive coordinator conducted a masterful job leading Penn State to an 8-4 season and keeping most of the team together following the penalties.
“It was pretty impressive,” said Terry Pegula, a proud Penn State donor and the owner of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. “To be down there, in the middle of that, wasn’t a good situation. Even the students were feeling bad. So Bill turned into the shining light in the whole thing. He had a lot of pressure on him and he did a heck of a job.”
Since the season’s end in late November, questions have been raised again about the sanctions and Freeh’s report. Gov. Tom Corbett — a trustee by virtue of his elected office — has sued the NCAA in federal court to have the sanctions overturned.
Lubrano and longtime trustee Alvin Clemens, who was on the board in November 2011, drew applause when paying tribute to Paterno last week.
The tributes at the meeting were appropriate, said trustee Paul Suhey, captain of the 1979 football team and another November 2011 trustee. He hoped there would be “a time when (the board) can honor Paterno more” after addressing lingering problems from the scandal.
• AP freelance writers Christina Gallagher and Mike Haim contributed to this report.