The Penn State board of trustees fired  legendary Head Football Coach Joe Paterno tonight — this in spite of the fact that Paterno announced he would step down at the end of the season after an unprecedented 46 years as head coach and 62 years of dedicated service to the Penn State program. They did this in spite of the fact that Paterno was cleared of any legal wrongdoing in the child molestation case that has rocked Happy Valley and in spite of the fact that numerous key details of the case remain unresolved.

If I were a football player at Penn State I would be meeting with fellow players right now and I guarantee you what the talk would all be about — do we play on Saturday against Nebraska?  Or do we make a statement and refuse to take the field?

Be assured, Paterno will tell them to play.  And they will be fearful of losing their scholarships.  But they will also be gutted by the thought that the man who gave his entire adult life to the University could be so pompously cast aside without even an appearance of due process.

No one knows what Mike McQueary, then a graduate assistant and now a wide receiver coach at Penn State, actually said to Paterno when he reported the incident.  Paterno is on record under oath as saying McQueary provided no details.  And the person responsible — retired coach Jerry Sandusky — was not at that time even a member of the Penn State football program — his presence in the football facility was purely a function of his retirement deal with Penn State, which allowed him to keep an office and retain access to the facility.  As Franco Harris pointed out, Paterno was not  a supervisor of Sandusky and Sandusky was not a member o the Penn State football program — he was a co-tenant in the building that housed the Penn State football offices.  Paterno reported him — and he is found to be so deficient in his response that he is summarily dismissed after 62 years of extraordinary service to Penn State football and the community.

It will be interesting to see what happens next.

Eyes on the Penn State football team.

UPDATE: Mike Lopresti at USA Today has the best perspective on this I’ve seen so far: Paterno’s Downfall the Most Tragic of Any Coaching Icon.

UPDATE: Crowds and Riot Police in State College after Paterno firing announced.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Thousands of Penn State students poured onto the streets around the university tonight after the board of trustees fired longtime football coach Joe Paterno amid the growing furor over how the school handled sex abuse allegations against a former assistant football coach.
Police in riot gear were on hand trying to control the crowds that swelled on Beaver Avenue, according to a report by the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia.
Crowds of Paterno supporters started gathering on Beaver Avenue in downtown State College at about 10 p.m. and began walking toward the campus administration building, reported.

UPDATE: Paterno comes out of his house and addresses supporters.

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