Penn State Board of Trustees did what it had to, but it didn't exactly get it right
There was no way Joe Paterno could coach Saturday's game against Nebraska, but the BOT has to be fully forthcoming.
The Penn State Board of Trustees acted late Wednesday night, swiftly and decisively as it had promised.
It fired Joe Paterno and dispatched president Graham Spanier too, though Spanier's departure was strangely announced as mutual, or something like that.
For Penn State to begin moving forward, national icon Paterno and 16-year president Spanier needed to be removed from their positions, for the time being at least.
The disgusting facts from the grand jury report in the sexual abuse case against Jerry Sandusky, which are pretty much the only known facts at this point, make it clear that Spanier and Paterno, among others, might be culpable in overlooking a heinous act by Sandusky, and thus enabling future heinous acts.
Which is enough to remove Paterno and Spanier from their positions while the school investigates. Certainly Spanier's ability to lead is crippled beyond repair, and Paterno must be further questioned. The surreal BOT press conference at 10pm Wednesday seemed to make this point.
But it missed on many other points.
The BOT set itself up for second-guessing and doubt about its leadership abilities by admitting it didn't have all the facts, but was firing Paterno anyway. It said it didn't have any more facts than those contained in the grand jury report. Which with regard to Paterno are brief and a bit nebulous about what he knew, though alarming due to their nature and what they might mean.
But it didn't place Paterno on leave and remove him from Penn State while it investigates. It fired him.
So then: AD Tim Curley, charged with perjury in the Sandusky case, is placed on leave by the BOT, and VP Gary Schultz, also charged with perjury, is allowed to re-retire, and both are having their legal fees covered by PSU. But Paterno, charged with nothing and absolved legally by the state attorney general, is fired? Instead of being placed on leave pending the investigation? And Spanier apparently is allowed to negotiate his end, but JoePa is fired with no request to resign first?
Yes, Paterno had to be removed now. Yes, this might seem like semantics.
But this isn't about whether the history books will say Paterno was fired or placed on leave for the final three games before his retirement.
It is about the BOT needing to get things right, needing to be transparent and honest.
BOT spokesperson John Surma - a sharp guy if there ever was - didn't say Paterno is the name fueling the oppressive media onslaught that's inhibiting PSU's recovery. He didn't say Paterno's outsized presence is an obstacle to moving forward. He didn't say that Saturday's game against Nebraska, with Paterno on the sideline, would be a media-hounded, bizarre, powder-keg of a sideshow the school cannot tolerate or risk at this juncture. He didn't say they were scared of what more they might learn, considering how much is unknown and the mind-blowing nature of this situation.
Paterno had to be removed for those reasons. Except the BOT didn't say that. And they didn't just remove him, they fired him. While saying they didn't have all the facts.
The BOT needs to be accurate and forthright every step of the way. And they weren't.
So, as Penn State somehow tries to find ground zero and start the long, slow, ugly climb out of the greatest depths, as it rallies behind its Board of Trustees and begins the road to recovery, as it assesses the breathtaking range and depth of damage, as it plans the investigation and determines who must be cleaned out and processes everything that it is happening in this tragedy of unparalleled scope and horror, in its major initial opening salvo, the BOT came off as disingenuous.
Also, couldn't Surma have taken a police escort to Paterno's house and told him in person? Instead of sending a courier with a note to Paterno, asking him to call a certain number? What if Paterno had said, fine, I'll call in the morning?
The BOT also left Mike McQueary's status untouched. Yes, addressing those with the highest profile - Spanier and Paterno - was of greater importance than assistant coach McQueary. But McQueary is important also, based on his explosive statements in the grand jury report. How about the BOT taking the one minute it should have taken for all members to agree that McQueary must be placed on leave and removed from Penn State indefinitely pending the investigation?
But instead, McQueary's status lingers today. Sigh.
The Penn State Board of Trustees is tasked with an extraordinarily difficult and important mission. In academic parlance, the BOT needs to make an "A." It must.
So far, it gets a "C."
Long way to go. Long way.