Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and school president Graham Spanier were fired Wednesday night by the school's board of trustees because of the growing furor over how the school handled child sex abuse allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
News of Paterno's firing inflamed Penn State students, who took to the streets and rioted (video below).
After hearing news of the firing, Paterno released a statement: "I am disappointed with the Board of Trustees' decision, but I have to accept it. A tragedy occurred, and we all have to have patience to let the legal process proceed. I appreciate the outpouring of support but want to emphasize that everyone should remain calm and please respect the university, its property and all that we value."
Standing outside of his home late Thursday with his wife, Paterno responded to crowds of students by saying: "You guys are great, all of you. Hey look, get a good night's sleep, study. You still have things to do. Right now, I'm not the football coach. And I've got to get used to that. After 61 years, I've got to get used to it. I appreciate it. Let me think it through."
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Back at Penn State, board vice chair John Surma said, during a packed press conference:"The university is much larger than its athletic teams."
According to Surma, Paterno and Spanier were informed by telephone of the unanimous decisions to remove them because "we were unable to find a way to do that in person without causing further distraction."
But an unnamed source claims Surma lied when he said the board had informed Paterno by phone. Instead, the source claims a university employee hand-delivered a letter about the firing to the family home 15 minutes prior to the press conference. According to the source, the reason for the letter was that the university employee said the board was unable to locate Paterno during the day.
The legendary football coach allegedly said upon hearing the news: "You give your life to this place and that's how you're treated."
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will serve as interim coach while Rodney Erickson will be the interim school president.
Paterno said in a statement earlier Wednesday that he was "absolutely devastated" by the abuse case, in which his former assistant Jerry Sandusky, has been charged with molesting eight boys over 15 years, with some of the alleged assaults taking place at the Penn State football complex.
"This is a tragedy," Paterno said. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."
Paterno has come under harsh criticism for not taking more action in 2002 after then-graduate assistant and current assistant coach Mike McQueary came to him and reported seeing Sandusky in the Penn State showers with a young boy. Paterno notified the athletic director, Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz.
Sandusky, who retired from Penn State in June 1999, maintained his innocence through his lawyer. Curley has taken a leave of absence and Schultz has decided to step down. They also say they are innocent.
Following the news of Paterno‘s firing, thousands of students took to the streets of State College, PA to protest Paterno’s dismissal. Police in riot gear were called in when some of the crowd turned violent, throwing rocks and turning over media trucks, and reportedly dispersed them with mace or pepper spray.