Would You Have Fired Joe Paterno?

I expect I’m about to pull a Rick Perry and “step in it,” but I believe the Penn State Board of Trustees made the difficult but correct decision last night to fire Joe Paterno.  University prez Graham Spanier got the hook as well.

Here’s why.

First, by all accounts at this point, JoePa didn’t violate any laws, but it appears he violated his own ethical standards for character, trust and integrity.

When Mike McQueary, then a grad student and former Nittany Lions quarterback and now an assistant coach, first told Paterno what he alleges he witnessed in a shower between Jerry Sandusky and a young boy, the head coach could have ended the matter. If JoePa for whatever reason didn’t want to contact the police, he could have forced the athletic director or the university prez to make the call. Apparently he didn’t. And in the void of moral leadership among the senior-level bureaucrats at Penn State, that made a big difference.

This also begs the question of why McQueary didn’t confront Sandusky personally. That, I guess, is a story for another day as more revelations and details about this scandal will most certainly emerge.

Second, Paterno announced his own retirement yesterday, saying that he would coach until the end of the season. The rub in that is apparently he issued a statement without first discussing the matter with the Board of Trustees. These kind of boards — whether in business or education — are slow to react to anything and tend to review and study problems until the goalie in Hell puts on ice skates. But experience shows they don’t like to be pushed into a corner.

Third, from the university’s point of view, Saturday’s final home game in Happy Valley against Nebraska is going to generate a media shit storm. But it would have been an even bigger debacle if the Board members let it become a memorial to Joe Paterno. Sorry, folks. But the allegations of rape and the inability of university administrators to protect children from by all accounts a sexual predator trump football and legacies here. Note to self: Let’s see if Mike McQueary is on the sidelines. Sigh.

Not happy days in Happy Valley.

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3 responses to “Would You Have Fired Joe Paterno?

  1. Pingback: PR and the Penn State debacle | Toughsledding

  2. On the money, Rob. I guess it’s no coincidence that two old PR guys wrote about this today. My post here: http://toughsledding.com/2011/11/pr-and-the-penn-state-debacle/

    This has been painful for me. I root for just two teams in this world — Penn State and the Pittsburgh Steelers. People with both of those teams have let me down in the past year, and it’s painful. I know it’s crazy, but I am too emotionally involved here. I didn’t go to Penn State, but pretty much everyone in my family did. Our ties there are close, as my post explains.

    Every one of us worshiped at the altar of JoePa. He earned that adoration. Until now.

    But it had to end this way. It’s a mess. It’s a tragedy. But what went on in that locker room is unforgivable under any moral code.

    I need a drink. We should get one. Soon.

    • Bill, I agree. This is a tragedy on so many levels and for so many people, especially for the young boys and their families. But as you point out in your post, it’s not a failure of public relations as a management function. It’s a crisis of leadership and ethical behavior — and by all accounts, horrific illegal activity.

      We do need to get a drink. And soon.

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