The Sins of Penn State: The Untold Story of Joe Paterno’s Fall

The world Joe Paterno created brought him down in the end.

HARRY TRUMAN WAS PRESIDENT WHEN JOE PATERNO drove west with Penn State’s new head coach, Rip Engle, to State College. Joe had studied English literature and played quarterback for Rip at Brown; he’d taken the law boards—scoring in the top 10 percent nationally—but he’d forgo law school. He had a thirst to learn but a “rage to win,” as his younger brother George once said. He’d give coaching a try for a year.

State College and Joe were a strange fit. He’d grown up in Brooklyn’s Flatbush section; his parents were staunchly Italian and staunchly pro-Joe, the oldest of three. His mother would ask George, who she suspected was the better athlete, to tone it down in high-school games so as not to outshine his older brother. His father, a state court clerk, studied nights to get his law degree at 42. Joe was a star student educated by Jesuits, a thinking-man’s athlete (i.e.: not a standout) given the nickname “The Dogfaced Boy” as a child—he was deadly serious. Big things were in store for him. It was a given.

But coaching football in central Pennsylvania? He had big doubts. Still, there was an idea Joe had of himself that would start to mesh with coaching. His favorite book, going back to Brooklyn Prep, was Virgil’s Aeneid. To Joe, Aeneas’s epic struggle­—to create a new city in Italy after his native Troy was destroyed—was symbolic of a man accepting his fate—not merely what happened to him, but his true responsibility to others, come hell or high water. The molding of young athletes as young men began to grow on Paterno.

It took 16 years, but finally, in 1966, Joe got his shot. By then he was married (Joe met Sue, 13 years younger, in PSU’s library; his idea of courting was to give her a copy of The Stranger and ask for her written thoughts on Camus) and had started a family. He spent a summer as head coach buried in an upstairs room, rethinking his defense. He took complete control of his staff, managing every detail. “When a guy stakes his life on something new, there’s no other way,” Joe would later write.

This was important. This was destiny. But would it work?

PSU’s record, his first year, was 5-5. But then, starting in 1968, Joe’s team started winning, and kept winning.

There were two straight undefeated seasons. Penn State didn’t lose for more than a thousand days. For the first time, the Lions were beating big teams—Kansas, UCLA—on national TV. In January 1970, 5,000 students came to a rally in Rec Hall. The player names were now big-time: Kwalick, Pittman, Reid. But the biggest ovation, a roar that rocked Penn State’s old gym, was for Joe Paterno. Joe had become Penn State football, and Penn State football was national news.

He got bigger. In 1972, the NFL’s New England Patriots tried to lure Paterno—then earning $30,000 a year—with the first million-dollar contract for a pro coach. Joe hemmed and hawed, but in the end he turned the offer down, with his particular ability to be humble and grand in the same breath: “You went to bed with a millionaire,” he said he told Sue, “but you woke up with me.”

With that one, the national press fell in love. Bill Conlin, then with the Philadelphia Bulletin, came up with “The Grand Experiment” to describe Joe’s dictum that his athletes came to Happy Valley to actually study. In fact, they did and still do; almost 90 percent of Penn State’s football players graduate, far above the national average for big-time programs, and professors at PSU say the team exerts zero influence on how players are treated academically.

Joe got bigger yet. In 1973, he delivered the commencement address in June. He quoted John Steinbeck, W.H. Auden and Robert Browning. He urged the graduates, as they walked into a Watergate-obsessed world, not to become cynical about civic engagement. Then he ended with this, to an audience of 22-year-olds who had cut their teeth on the ’60s:

“You have inspired us to stretch. You have disrupted our comfortable thinking. You have made us reevaluate, think again about our ideals and our principles. You have made us look again at our souls.”

This from the football coach? Not a coach. Joe. Sharing the way with us.

There was another big step to take, a decade later, after Paterno’s 1982 team beat Georgia for his first national championship. He was invited to speak before the board of trustees­—ostensibly so they could fete him. Instead, he let them have it:

“It bothers me to see Penn State football number one and then to pick up a newspaper and find a report that many of our academic departments and disciplines are not rated up there with the leading institutions.”

Paterno was right; Penn State was a very average public university. What’s more, its endowment, as of the late ’70s, was a pathetic $11 million. Chastised, the trustees soon began a $200 million fund-raising campaign­, vice-chaired by Paterno. Two decades later, the trustees wanted to raise another $700 million; Paterno didn’t see why the goal shouldn’t be a cool billion. Everybody thought he was nuts—until the campaign landed $1.4 billion. Or, overwhelmingly, Joe did. The master recruiter of kids was dynamite with moneybags boosters and alums, too.

By the end of the ’90s, Penn State had come up to speed as a research university, with enrollment tripling since Joe Paterno’s arrival half a century earlier. And Happy Valley belonged to him.

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  • Tim

    The facts of why Sandusky retired were not mentioned. In his last interview, Paterno said Sandusky spent too much time on Second Mile to be head coach.

    In the Grand Jury report, a boy testified how upset Sandusky was when Paterno told him he would not be the next head coach.

    Retiring was Sandusky’s choice to spend more time with his Second Mile boys. He also avoided the embarrassment of being passed over for head coach after the sports media had named him as Paterno’s heir apparent.

    After retiring, Sandusky interviewed for and was offered the head coach job at U. Virginia but did not accept it.

  • Mark

    What is new in this article? Seems like a rehash of everything we have read or has been speculated about in the past 4 months.

    By the way, you missed some facts about Triponey. Her successor has stated publicly that Joe could not overturn or change Student Affairs actions. He also stated that only one football player had discipline altered and that came from Spanier.

    Also, you may want to Google Triponey. You may learn that she was not liked by many organizations including the student body. That may have had more to do with her dismissal than what you allude to. Either way, try to get some balanced facts next time.
    And if you are going to title articles in the future as an ‘untold story’, please make sure you include some material things that have not been told before.

  • Mark

    You point out University Police involvement in 1998. That is true, but you fail to mention they handed it over to the DA who decided to drop it. The DPW did not find anything in their investigation to support charges.

    The misrepresentation and omission of facts in these stories over the past 4 months is stunning.

  • Marty

    I mean Tom Corbett DA, I haven’t seen much questioning him at all. Confuses me especially with the campaign money and donations etc to Second Mile knowing that this investigation was going on… Nevermind it is easier just rehash and print the same story and attach the famous name to it.

  • james

    Seriously? It’s almost March of 2012 and you’re reporting news from last November, and going as far back to the 70’s. Your story provided nothing new or newsworthy regarding Joe Paterno, or the Sandusky situation. It seems that you’re just trying to bleed the Paterno name for one more headline. AND, it also seems that you habitually take advantage of knowing some lesser known personal JoePa facts and lend your opinionated story parts credibility. If you want a real headline be a journalist and do some research and expose PA Gov. Corbett’s role in the Sandusky situation and how he alone could have put an end to it in the mid 90’s.

  • wendy

    Agree with the above…you fail to mention Corbett’s role in this debacle, you state too many fallacies, you string together rumor & innuendo and present it as fact.

    Why did The Second Mile allow these boys…their CLIENTS – to be abused like this! This is all on their plate and NO ONE IS ADDRESSING THAT ISSUE!

    Is it because The Second Mile is not as interesting as the Paterno name in grabbing a reader’s attention…

    Puhleeze. Come back when you’ve got some hard hitting information for us.

  • bruce

    Seriously… please point out to me one bit of information being reported that hasn’t be reported time and time again. Believe me, I’m no Penn State apologist and I definitely believe Coach Joe Paterno could have done more but with that being said, your article is nothing… NOTHING… but regurgitated facts.

    Now if you want to write a story… why don’t you talk about how are present Governor decided to turn a blind eye to the situation when this all started. And if you really want to be a journalist why don’t you investigate The Second Mile and their campaign contribution to Corbett when he was running for governor.

    But I guess that doesn’t sell magazines.

  • Tim

    If you want a fresh story, use this headline: “Did McQueary Perjure Himself or did the Grand Jury Report Lie?”

    We know one of those is true because McQueary’s sworn testimony at the preliminary hearing contradicts the Grand Jury Report summary of his testimony.

    Seems like a big story either way. Isn’t even an Attorney General subject to disbarment for lying in an official report?

  • Bill

    While the Cult of JoePa will certainly be around quickly to flood this article with negative comments, I say well done.

    The article is well though out, well researched and balanced. It gives Paterno credit where due but shines a harsh light on his megalomania, cult of personality and iron fisted rule of the entire university infrastructure that led to the dysfunctional and insular institution exposed to the rest of the nation.

    While Paterno undoubtedly helped Penn State grow, he also held it back in many important ways.

  • Cindy

    Your article’s only offering of proof that Paterno knew more was two instances of he said she said,third party recollections, of partial comments. God help our country that we can try and convict a man in the media and in public opinion based on such evidence. A society who cannot depend on its press to report news accurately and without judgement is truly in danger.

  • Jesse

    this was right on. well written.

  • Jesse

    I read the comments above and definitely expected to see the blue and white faithful crash down on the article. I grew up in State College and couldn’t wait to get out of there. Joe Paterno was the most influential person in the state of Pennsylvania. Stop making excuses for him. This writer gives credit where credit is due and exposes how closed minded Happy Valley is. Funny how the PSU faithful questioned the hiring Bill O’Brien. Did u really think Urban Meyer was gonna come in there? Come on! Who would want that job?

    • BA1262

      Absolutely right, Jesse! Pride goeth before a fall and a haughty spirit before destruction… and there is waaayy too much pride of the wrong kind at Penn State. The pride of doing a job well done is one thing, but the pride that turns a blind eye to child sexual abuse for the sake of saving face to protect the name of the university and a football program is disgusting!!!

  • Frank

    This story is boring.

  • Susan

    Mr. Huber:
    What a bunch of lies and distortions you have written about Mr. Paterno.
    What is your point?
    You used his name to get an article printed and a bad article it is.
    You have no clue what a classy and gracious man that Joe Paterno was. His legacy of good will live forever.
    Investigate our governor if you want to write a story about the Sandusky scandel.
    Mr. Paterno said “make an impact”. I don’t think that you ever will.
    Shame on you!

  • Pete

    Well written and interesting. But the straining-logic conclusion is bizarre, as is the fourth-party sourcing (“Someone who knows the Paternos reluctantly said that four years ago someone who is possibly a Paterno said that … ” Yeah, whatever). And the fact that Gary Schultz’ name only appears once, and merely as an aside (so, Schultz also was with Spanier and Curley in 2004 when they went to ask JoePa for a succession/retirement plan? That’s new to me) is ridiculous. Any story of this length/depth on this topic must address Schultz. He had a clear, central role in this entire tragedy. Schultz is the only person, at this point, KNOWN to have knowledge of BOTH the 1998 investigation into Sandusky and the 2002 McQueary accusation. And this story pretty much omits him completely? Ridiculous.


    I know editors like to give articles a catchy title and authors don’t have control over that, so I blame the editors for this rehash. I was totally expecting to read something new and “untold”. The

  • Tom

    First off, several players missed playing time due to the fight at the apartment, so that’s a lie. Also, I have read tweets from many people in the president’s box the day of the Illinois game that said Sandusky was not there. Another lie. Then again, what do facts matter to journalists nowadays?

  • Jim

    I wish you folks in the press would get this right and quit villifying Paterno and Penn State. You need to focus you investigative efforts on our current Governor and The Second Mile. Why does this Governor attend meetings personally when in the past prior Governors sent emissaries? In fact it could be argued that given this Governors role in the past couple of BOT meetings, he was more than merely a participant but rather steered the actions of the BOT. Although he is a trustee at other PA universities who receive the same amounts in state funding as PSU does, he does not play a micromanaging role at those institutions as he has been doing at PSU. This is more than merely a money issue, but rather an issue of being directly involved in order to throw others off-the-scent of where the real villainy lies. Again the crux of all this is why he chose not to prosecute Sandusky while he was AG? Why has The Second Mile not been the focus of this investigation when practically all of these alleged incidents involving Sandusky involved boys from the Second Mile, all but 1 of which occured off the PSU…

  • Quo

    I hope all of you arguing that someone who covered up molestation is being “treated unfairly” someday see your comments for the evil they truly represent.

    • BA1262


  • SR

    You state, when referring to McQueary’s report to JoePa: “A day later, Paterno called his athletic director, Tim Curley. And that’s all he did—the right thing, technically,

  • SR

    JoePa told Sally Jenkins he didn’t feel adequate to handle such an issue, so he turned it over to higher ups who he believed would be better capable. I wouldn’t have felt qualified to han

  • SR

    Penn Staters who support PSU or JoePa do NOT support rape. That’s a classic “either-or logic fallacy” used to force an uninformed audience to accept a conclusion by presenting only two o

  • SR

    It seems when some of us comment, only part of the actual comment appears. Why is that?

  • Tom McGrath

    We received the following Wick Sollers, lawyer for the Paterno family:

    Your article about the late Penn State Head Football Coach Joe Paterno deliberately created the impression that Coach Paterno knew about a 1998 incident involving Jerry Sandusky that was investigated by local law enforcement. Your claim that you pin on anonymous “Paterno watchers” is baseless and not supported by the facts. There has not been one iota of evidence from any source to suggest that Coach Paterno was ever informed about that investigation. In addition, in every comment and interview made during the last months of his life, Coach Paterno made clear that he did not learn of the 1998 investigation until after the Sandusky investigation broke in late 2010/2011. There have been investigations into what Coach Paterno knew in 1998 by multiple agencies, and not a single witness has said he or she gave that information to Coach Paterno. Indeed, the coach testified in the Grand Jury that he had no knowledge of the 1998 investigation, and the Grand Jury – after reviewing the 1998 file and hearing testimony from all relevant witnesses – confirmed this fact by its findings.

  • Alfredo

    Your idol had clay feet, as do all idols.

  • mike

    Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Who would dare tell Ceasar he was no longer Ceasar? Power and influence colors our perspective and when surrounded by yes men there is no balance of thought or behavior, look how long it took to topple Nixon with almost the entire U.S. government at hand. What’s troubling is all the good works get overshadowed by the wrong and immoral and history just keeps repeating itself

  • Ronald L. White, JD

    I just want to thank Yahweh, for gifting us with Joseph Vincent Paterno, for 85 years, plus. I want to thank Sue, and the kids, for sharing him with us, the greater family of Joe Paterno. I never had the honor of meeting the Coach, in this life, but he is one of my heroes. I shall cherish his memory, all of my living days. When I grow up, I want to be just like Coach, Joe Pa. I am a Baby Boomer, but I am no baby. My heart was broken, when Coach was fired, but I was devastated when he left us. I will never get over that. All he asked for, was to finish the season, and the bowl game. Was that too much to ask, for a man who had generated more than $1 billion for Penn State, as head football coach for nearly half a century? Obviously, it was asking too much, for a Board of Trustees, who, in panic mode, came up with the knee jerk decision, to let him go. I know Tom Corbett was the catalyst for that decision, because Joe Paterno would not endorse him for governor. What a pity! What a little man, is Tom Corbett.

    Joe Pa, was the best. The Messiah, Yeshua, was perfect, the word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we all know what happened to him. If perfection can be crucified, who is Joe Paterno? Who am I? Who are you? It is a real shame that we destroy our heroes. We build them up, and then we tear them down, even when they have done no wrong. Shame on us. Glory to Joe Paterno. Glory, to Joe Paterno! Well done, sir, well done, indeed! We will see you, on the other side, Coach, at the appointed hour. Until then, keep up your good works! If a man is judged by his deeds, you are in a good place.

    • Ronald L. White, JD

      Remember Isaiah 45: 7: “I form the light, and create the darkness: I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” Bad things happen to good people. Terrible things happen to the best of us. It is always in the hands of Yahweh. Sometimes, he will destroy the best people on the planet, to test your characters, the accuser. Remember that, when you pass judgment on Joe Paterno, The Patron Saint of Penn State University. It was not Joe Paterno, who erred, but what about you, Mr. Rock Thrower? What about you?

  • Lu Foremost

    I’ve worked at PSU and lived in this area for over 25 years. This entire situation was always about greed: Money and Sex. That about sums it up.

  • Excellent article, fair, well written and well sourced.

  • smokeybandit

    Another absolute hit piece against a dead man with no regard to fact.

  • Jim

    Why is any of this believable when the author doesn’t even know that the 2002 date he mentions twice has been changed to 13 months earlier than reported in the Grand Jury presentment from November of 2011. Do a little research please.

  • Erik

    ” It seems quite plausible that he [Spanier] simply couldn’t wrap his mind around the possibility of something so heinous emanating from Joe Paterno’s football program”

    Sandusky was retired as a Professor Emeritus. He was not part of Joe Paterno’s football program. This is a huge problem with your and many others understanding of the situation.

  • Rip E.

    Classic faint damning praise. You seriously tried to trick your past a woman in the process of nursing her dying husband of 50 years? Pathetic.

  • Bill Levinson B.S. ’78

    It is particularly telling that Joyner profited personally from his action as a Trustee (he was given Tim Curley’s job), and his statement to Lubrano tells me pretty much everything I need to know about Mr. Joyner’s character and trustworthiness.

    Either Joyner is stupid, which I do not believe, or he was willing to make the dishonest argument that Paterno should have gone outside the procedures established by the University (including the Trustees), become a loose cannon, and possibly exposed Penn State to a libel suit by telling the wrong people that a former employee was a child molester–an allegation that has yet to be proven. One thing you do NOT do if you are responsible for the well-being of an organization is run off at the mouth to the wrong with unproven accusations of crimes against employees, whether current or former. Paterno did take the allegation to the people who were responsible for acting on it, and actions were in fact taken.

    Joyner knows this, his colleagues on the Board know it, and what they did on 11/9 therefore reflects on their collective character, ethics, and integrity.

  • Joel

    Wow! That was the most fantastic piece I’ve read on the entire PSU/JoePa/Sandusky affair. It was very even handed, and gave me more insight than anything else I’ve read or seen. As a Penn State grad ’69, lifetime alum, husband and father to PSU alumni, and a regular returnee to State College…I both thank you and commend you. I will try to get your article to many others.

  • Baltimore Bob

    Joe PA in 1998 when Sandusky retired
    at age 54 was 70+ years old
    and your brain doesn’t work
    as well after age 70.
    I hold people responsible for Vietnam
    born between 1900 and 1947.
    I do Not hold those 66 or older in 1965
    responsible for Vietnam.
    90% of American Idiots approved of Vietnam.
    Joe Pa was right in the middle of that
    born in December 1926.
    One of many Cowards.

    Reparations for Vietnam Vet
    Righteous Robert
    Baltimore Bob

  • Shawn

    Mr. Huber, this is an extremely informative review of what the general public has be fed throughout this ordeal. I must commend you on the measured and tempered tone of this article, surely taking into account the raw feelings of the vast fans and family of Paterno and the justifiable anger of the victims.

    However, what is glaringly absent from your assessment is this: Paternos’ blatant disregard of the rampant sexual abuse by Sandusky of so many impressionable and disadvantaged young boys. That this behavior is not unique to PSU goes without saying. The facts are undeniable and unequivocal, Paterno did a huge disservice to his employer, players, staff and institution on the whole, all the while burnishing his legend at every turn and every opportunity shoehorning the title of “Most Winningest Coach” in each and every article he was mention in.

    Again, a very enlightening article.