STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - Penn State coach Joe Paterno said he was shocked, saddened and as surprised as everyone else to learn longtime assistant Jerry Sandusky was charged with sexually abusing young boys over a 15-year period, including four years when Sandusky still was a member of the Nittany Lions staff.
“If this is true we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families. They are in our prayers,” Paterno in a statement issued Sunday evening by his son, Scott.
Paterno, a Hall of Famer and the winningest coach in Division I history, is not implicated in the case.
“Joe Paterno was a witness who cooperated and testified before the grand jury,” said Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office. “He’s not a suspect.”
Paterno referred to his grand jury testimony in which he testified that he was informed by an assistant coach in 2002 that he had witnessed an incident in the shower of the team locker room. Prosecutors have said Paterno had passed on the information to athletic director Tim Curley.
But Paterno said specific actions alleged to have occurred in the grand jury report were not relayed to him.
“It was obvious that the witness was distraught over what he saw, but he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the grand jury report,” Paterno said in the statement. “Regardless, it was clear that the witness saw something inappropriate involving Mr. Sandusky. As coach Sandusky was retired from our coaching staff at that time, I referred the matter to university administrators.”
Late Sunday night, the Penn State board met in executive session. About half the board members were present while others joined by phone. Board members, including university Vice President Damon Sims, walked out and declined to comment to reporters.
In a phone interview Sunday, Scott Paterno, serving as his father’s spokesman, said the first and only incident reported about Sandusky to Paterno was in 2002. Scott Paterno, a former lawyer, is a Harrisburg-based political operative.
Sandusky retired from his assistant’s job in 1999. He is charged with sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years. Overseeing the linebackers, Sandusky coached such prominent players including Jack Ham, Shane Conlan and Matt Millen.
Sandusky coached the defense in Penn State’s 1982 and 1986 national title seasons, and was at one point considered a likely successor to Paterno. The grand jury report released Saturday said one victim, identified as “Victim 4,” recalled a meeting with an emotional Sandusky after Paterno had told Sandusky about May 1999 that his assistant would not be the next coach at Penn State.
According to Scott Paterno, his father made the decision because he felt Sandusky was spending too much time at The Second Mile, a foundation Sandusky established to help at-risk kids, where authorities say he encountered the boys. Sandusky then made the decision to take early retirement, Scott Paterno said.
Scott Paterno said his father told Sandusky he had to dedicate himself to either the foundation or coaching. “Joe had said `You can’t do both, you can’t have two masters,’” Scott Paterno recalled.
Curley and Gary Schultz, the university’s senior vice president for finance and business, were charged Saturday with failing to report to state and county officials that a witness told them he saw Sandusky sexually abusing a naked boy in the locker room showers in 2002.
Two people familiar with the investigation confirmed the identity of the witness as then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary, now the team’s wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. The two spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the names in the grand jury report have not been publicly released.
Schultz and Curley were both also charged with perjury. Lawyers for all three men have said they are innocent.
“I understand that people are upset and angry, but let’s be fair and let the legal process unfold,” Paterno said in the statement. “In the meantime I would ask all Penn Staters to continue to trust in what that name represents, continue to pursue their lives every day with high ideals and not let these events shake their beliefs nor who they are.”
A Hall of Famer, Paterno on Oct. 29 won his 409th victory, most among Division I coaches. Penn State was off this weekend and next plays Nebraska on Saturday in the home finale.
“If true, the nature and amount of charges made are very shocking to me and all Penn Staters,” he said. “While I did what I was supposed to with the one charge brought to my attention, like anyone else involved I can’t help but be deeply saddened these matters are alleged to have occurred.”
Instead of excited chatter about a potential Big Ten title after a surprising 8-1 start, the focus is squarely on the disturbing abuse charges.
An athletic department spokesman said Paterno would not be available to talk to reporters until his regularly scheduled Tuesday media availabilities, and referred all comment to the university’s media relations department. There were busy signals Sunday to several calls to Paterno’s home.
In his record 46 years on the job, he’s never faced a crisis quite like the one now hovering over Happy Valley like a dark cloud. While other programs were plagued by controversy after controversy _ Ohio State and Miami this year, for instance _ Penn State, one of the storied programs in the college football history, seemingly just rolled right along with about as much buzz as their plain blue-and-white uniforms, holding true to its slogan “Success with Honor.”
Miami coach Al Golden, a former Penn State tight end, returned to his alma mater in 2000 as a linebacker coach and recruiting coordinator. Golden was hired to fill the vacancy created when Sandusky retired in 1999.
“Shocked and disheartened,” Golden said. “But other than that, I really don’t know much about it or what’s going on. But the news that I did learn, I was shocked and disheartened, like so many others, I’m sure.”
Golden has remained close with several people at the school and still speaks with the highest regard for Joe Paterno.
AP writers Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg and Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.
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