UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — His successes were many. As athletic director, Dave Joyner hired two well-liked football coaches and his tenure featured several national and Big Ten championships for Penn State teams. Yet seemingly every positive was countered by a negative. From his controversial appointment to athletic director to a recent lawsuit filed against him, Joyner faced detractors from the Penn State fan base and even from the coaches working for him.
Now, he’s out. After about 21⁄2 years on the job, Penn State announced Tuesday that Joyner would retire, effective Aug. 1. President Eric Barron said in a statement Penn State will enact a national search for a new athletic director, fronted by David Gray, senior vice president for finance and business. No timeline was given.
“Dave Joyner has provided steady leadership to athletics for nearly three years,” Barron said. “I want to thank him for his hard work in upholding Penn State’s legacy of academic and athletic success.”
Joyner became athletic director in November 2011. It was a time of crisis. Athletic director Tim Curley had just been placed on administrative leave after his indictment on charges related to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, and the board of trustees — of which Joyner was a member — had fired football coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier.
In some ways, Joyner’s selection was an odd choice. An orthopedic surgeon, Joyner had no previous experience working in college athletics administration. He had, however, played football and wrestled at Penn State in the early 1970s, earning All-American honors as a wrestler.
The decision to hire Joyner drew complaints immediately. Not only had Joyner been part of the board when it chose to fire Paterno, he was moving directly from a position on the board of trustees to athletic director. The board considered Joyner the best choice because of his knowledge of Penn State. And the board doubted it could quickly find a qualified athletic director from outside the Penn State community given the Sandusky scandal.
In one of his first tasks on the job, Joyner spearheaded the coaching search committee that hired Bill O’Brien. Though O’Brien left after two seasons, he stabilized the program, leading Penn State to a 15-9 record in the midst of stiff NCAA sanctions. Joyner then led the search committee that hired James Franklin, who has been a popular choice among fans.
In his tenure, the rest of Penn State’s athletic department also has thrived. The wrestling team, women’s volleyball team and fencing teams won national titles, and Penn State’s academic reputation remained strong.
But Joyner could never escape scrutiny. He, along with president Rodney Erickson, was memorably booed at halftime of the 2012 Penn State-Ohio State football game, and he was often criticized at public comment sessions at board of trustee meetings. Former auditor general Jack Wagner recommended Penn State not allow trustees to move directly from the board to a high-level position at the university, citing Joyner’s hiring as an example of what Penn State should not do.
Last fall, Joyner fired longtime successful fencing coach Emmanuil Kaidanov. Two weeks ago, Kaidanov filed a lawsuit against Penn State and Joyner.
The athletic department, always self-sustaining in the past, ceased being so in Joyner’s tenure. Though it wasn’t directly Joyner’s fault, the athletic department has taken out loans from the university to pay back installments of the $60 million NCAA fine and a separate $30 million loan.
Penn Staters For Responsible Stewardship, a group of alumni and others, has often criticized Joyner for his actions pertaining to Paterno’s firing, his controversial appointment as athletic director and his role as athletic director regarding the NCAA consent decree. Asked earlier this year whether Joyner could ever be accepted, the group’s spokesperson, Maribeth Schmidt, said no.
“He was put in that position in extenuating circumstances of their own doing and that should never have happened,” Schmidt said. “A trustee should never be able to slide into a six-figure position at a university.”
The retirement of Joyner comes as little surprise. As part of the Freeh Report recommendations, the university was supposed to have a national search for a new athletic director, and Erickson said he would leave that search up to Penn State’s next president. Barron took over as president last month.
Joyner, who had an annual salary of $396,000, always said he planned to be at Penn State for as long as the university needed him.
“I have to operate thinking and trying to lay plans, whether I’m there or not, for what Penn State is going to be like five years from now or 10 years from now,” he said last year. “Like I said, I’ll just keep doing my job, doing the best I can do and whatever happens, happens.”
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791, Twitter @mdent05.