Gone, but never forgotten: Joe Paterno

Fact: Joe Paterno is and will always be a legend in the sport of college football.

Fact: Joe Paterno is the winningest coach in top-level college football.

Fact: After 46 years as head coach, Joe Paterno is no longer the leader of the Nittany Lions.

Previous to this week, Joe Paterno was considered the most respected man in college football. He is small in physical stature, greying, wears outdated glasses, and has a soothing-yet rough voice; basically, he fits the description of a typical grandfather. To his fans, the thousands upon thousands of Nittany Lions across the nation, he is their grandfather. His abrupt and unexpected departure from his long-held post as leader of Penn State Football has left his fans in a state of hysteria.

Students at the university are outraged over the board of trustees’ decision to fire Paterno. These students fully support their beloved coach, regardless of this situation, but why? How can anyone support a person who was aware of such wrongdoing and allowed it to go unreported? Penn State students are different. On Wednesday night, students hit the streets voicing their love for “Joe Pa”, knocking down sign posts, yelling at police, shattering car windows, and turning over trash cans and newspaper boxes. Students even overturned a television news van in an attempt to illustrate their infuriation with the media, which they largely blame for the boot of the beloved coach.

Under Paterno’s leadership, and motto of “success with honor,” a program was able to defy records and challenge teams across the nation. Although ‘Joe Pa’ was an amazing coach on the field, it takes more than Saturday games and weekly practices to make a good coach. Because Paterno neglected to consider the other duties of being a leader, a man was allowed to repeatedly desecrate innocent young children. In a 15-year period, 8 boys were sexually abused by one man, Jerry Sandusky. This one man has been charged with 40 counts of child abuse, 21 of which are felonies; however, because of him a powerhouse program has been forced to start all over.

Paterno had announced Wednesday morning that he would step down as coach at the end of the season. But amid the outrage, Penn’s State’s Board of Trustees held an executive session late Wednesday night and fired him and the schools President Graham Spanier, triggering the protests and media frenzy.

The Penn State story has been a lesson in what not to do in terms of crisis management from a public relations perspective. In a world filled with social media and news happening 24/7, companies, and in this case a university, cannot afford to mishandle a major crisis. It requires preparation and nurturing. One cannot just announce the events in such a manner that Penn State did.  They waited too long to address the allegations after the story had gone live-online, and began being broadcast on news outlets. Not only this, the university cancelled Paterno’s weekly-football press conference, which then caused chaos among the media. If anything good can come out of this, it will be that horrific instances such as this, and men such as Jerry Sandusky, never happen again.

– Jordan Hill, Michela Noreski, Ashley Nelson