Penn State Fires Coach Paterno, President Spanier

The board of trustees at Penn State University has fired school president Graham Spanier and football coach Joe Paterno. The shakeup announced Wednesday night follows criticism of how the school handled child sex abuse allegations against a former assistant coach.

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And I'm Renee Montagne. Penn State's long-serving and legendary football coach Joe Paterno has been fired. Also gone is the university's president. Both were fired last night by the school's Board of Trustees. Their ousting came amid a growing scandal that began with the arrest of a prominent, one-time assistant coach on charges of molesting young boys. Still, students who revere Coach Paterno were furious. NPR's Jeff Brady is in State College, Pennsylvania, with our report.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Last night's events started at a press conference. John Surma, with the Pennsylvania State University's Board of Trustees, announced that President Graham Spanier would no longer lead the school. Then came what was an even bigger announcement to many in this town of football fans.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JOHN SURMA: In addition, Joe Paterno is no longer the head football coach, effective immediately.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROSSTALK)

SURMA: These decisions were made after careful deliberations, and in the best interests of the university as a whole.

BRADY: Paterno had announced he would retire at the end of this football season, but that wasn't enough for the board. Members say they closely examined a grand jury indictment that charges a former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, with molesting eight boys over a period of 15 years. Also charged are two senior university officials - the athletics director at Penn State, and a senior vice president. Prosecutors say they failed to report the alleged abuse.

The Board of Trustees say President Spanier and Coach Paterno were being fired so the university could move past the scandal. John Surma was asked if he worried how students might respond to the coach's firing.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SURMA: We hope that in the long run - and maybe, hopefully, also in the short run - that our students will agree that what the trustees have undertaken is in their interest as well as all the other students'.

BRADY: But within an hour of the announcement, a main street near campus was filled with people.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING CROWD)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: One more game! One more game! One more game!

BRADY: Student Chris Santo was among those who said the 84-year-old Paterno should have been allowed to coach this Saturday's game against Nebraska.

CHRIS SANTO: I think it's terrible that the Board of Trustees had to come to this - to have to fire him three days before he was going to coach his last home game.

BRADY: At the beginning, the crowd was loud but generally well-behaved. Santo predicted that would change.

SANTO: I don't know, right now it's kind of boring, but I got a feeling something bad might happen very soon.

BRADY: It's not really clear when the protest began taking on a different tone. But there were people walking through the crowd urging others to get active.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: Join the cause, let's go!

BRADY: A little later in the evening, a man climbed a light pole, to wild cheers. Others led chants blaming the media for all the attention the molestation scandal is getting. Karen Murphy, an advertising student, was standing on a large planter so she could see out over the crowd.

KAREN MURPHY: Joe Paterno is being put in the middle of all this as if he were the one to do it but really, he did the right thing and, you know, he told authorities.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD NOISE)

BRADY: By this time, someone lit off fireworks over the crowd, and people began tearing down road signs and throwing rolls of toilet paper in the air. Then they moved to a street where television news vans were parked. One was turned over, to loud cheers from the crowd. Eventually, police in riot gear dispersed the protesters so workers could clean up the mess.

As most students went home, it's clear university administrators will have another mess to clean up - the school's reputation. To begin that work, the Board of Trustees announced two appointments. The school's executive vice president and provost, Rodney Erickson, will serve as interim president, and assistant coach Tom Bradley will step in as head football coach.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, State College, Pennsylvania.

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