Curley's athletic department earned much respect

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Tim Curley's online biography calls him the "architect" of Penn State athletics. And in 40 years of his involvement with the university, he helped build an athletic department that was the envy of most colleges in the country.

But he stepped away from the program late Sunday night, taking a paid administrative leave to fight criminal charges that he perjured himself in front of a state grand jury and failed to report the sexual assault of a child.

He leaves with his reputation in doubt and his program on shaky ground.

Mr. Curley's tenure as athletic director has been marked by remarkable on-field success and strong financial gains, earning respect from colleagues nationwide. But at times, he struggled to take control of his expansive program and often lacked the power to assert real change.

He twice tried to remove football coach Joe Paterno in 2004, but ultimately lacked the political capital it took to oust the legendary leader. After Mr. Curley and university President Graham Spanier visited Mr. Paterno's home in November 2004 to ask him to retire, the coach said no. "They didn't quite understand where I was coming from or what it took to get a football program going ...", Mr. Paterno told a Post-Gazette reporter a year later.

The women's basketball program generated controversy off and on through the 1980s and 1990s because then-coach Rene Portland, who had been hired by Mr. Paterno in 1980, reportedly did not allow lesbians on her team. One player who said she was kicked off the team because Portland incorrectly thought she was a lesbian sued in 2005, also naming Mr. Curley in the lawsuit. The university fined Ms. Portland $10,000, placed a reprimand in her file and required her to attend diversity training. The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount, and Ms. Portland resigned a few months later.

Mr. Curley, 57, is a State College native who lived across from New Beaver Field, the former home of the Nittany Lions football team, and earned money as a child by parking cars and selling game programs. It was the humble beginning of a relationship between him and Penn State.

Through it all, he has known no other institution. He played for the Nittany Lions as a walk-on football player and graduated from Penn State in 1976. A few years later, he joined the program as a graduate assistant coach and earned his master's degree. After a couple of years as Mr. Paterno's recruiting coordinator, Mr. Curley moved to the administrative side of the athletic department, where he was named assistant to the athletic director.

He worked under Jim Tarman for 11 years, eventually succeeding the athletic director in 1993.

"I have the highest regard for Tim," said Louise Tarman, Mr. Tarman's wife. The former athletic director now suffers from dementia, his wife said.

Ms. Tarman called Mr. Curley a "protege" of her husband.

"I'm just heartbroken for what's happening," she said.

In more than 17 years as athletic director, Mr. Curley has garnered a reputation as one of the best athletic administrators in the country. He was twice named the Northeast Athletic Director of the Year by the National Association of College Directors of Athletics, an organization for which he served as president in 2005-06.

Mr. Curley helped the university transition into the Big Ten Conference, a move that had taken place just months before he took over. He has presided over 21 team national championships, which is more than twice as many as any other Big Ten school. Graduation rates have been among the best in the nation. He oversaw a renovation to iconic Beaver Stadium that made it one of the nation's largest sporting venues.

"He was someone who took his job very seriously and I felt he dispatched his duties in a manner that reflected extremely well on his family and his institution," said Budd Thalman, who worked under Mr. Curley as the associate athletic director of communications until he retired in 2001.

He said the allegations made against his former boss are "uncharacteristic."

Penn State's successes even drew praise in 2004 from the NCAA, whose president at the time, Myles Brand, said of the school: "Penn State is the poster child for doing it right in college sports."

Two years before that, a grand jury charges, Mr. Curley failed to alert police that one of his former employees sexually assaulted a young boy in a sprawling, sparkling building he helped put on campus.


Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com , 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino.


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