Crowds support Paterno, confront university police
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A crowd of hundreds of students who gathered on the front lawn of embattled Penn State football coach Joe Paterno's home swelled to nearly 1,500 and confronted riot-gear-clad police on campus and along Beaver Avenue Tuesday night.
The students shouted, "We are Penn State!" and "Joe Paterno!" "Hell no Joe won't go!" and a few calls of "Fire Spanier!" outside Old Main shortly after 10 p.m., then along Beaver Avenue. About 20 officers marched down the street to get the students to move back to the sidewalks around 11 p.m. The crowd then returned to Old Main, the university administration building, and continued to swell in size. Campus police and Pennsylvania state troopers were on scene. There were no arrests as of late Tuesday night, and the crowd was dissipating by midnight.
With questions swirling about his future as Penn State football coach, Mr. Paterno spent the day besieged by reporters shouting questions, but when he returned from football practice after 6 p.m. a gathering of students descended on the front lawn of his modest ranch house on a cul-de-sac within walking distance of Beaver Stadium to express their support.
Mr. Paterno declined to directly address questions about his future as the coach, but his son, attorney Scott Paterno, said any reports that his father is on his way out as coach are premature and that his father will be on the sideline Saturday for the game against Nebraska at Beaver Stadium.
It could be the final home game of Mr. Paterno's career, which has spanned 46 years as a head coach and 62 as a member of the coaching staff.
"No one has asked him to step down," Scott Paterno said.
But support for Mr. Paterno, the winningest coach in Division I-A history with 409 victories, is eroding among the school's board of trustees, a source close to the situation told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His three-year contract expires at the end of this season.
Mr. Paterno had been scheduled to speak at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at his weekly news conference, but university president Graham Spanier canceled it less than an hour before it was to take place inside Beaver Stadium. Mr. Paterno was expected to be peppered with questions about his role in alerting university officials to a report nine years ago that his former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, was seen sexually assaulting a boy in the football team's showers.
Mr. Paterno, who will be 85 next month, emerged from his house on McKee Street at about 2:15 p.m. Tuesday to go to the team's practice. He looked tired as he stopped to address roughly 100 reporters gathered in the front lawn of the house where he has lived for more than four decades.
He said he was disappointed that the news conference was canceled.
"I know you guys have a lot of questions. I was hoping I could answer them today. We'll try to do it as soon as we can," Mr. Paterno said before getting into an SUV driven by Guido D'Elia, the school's director of communications and branding for football.
Roughly two dozen students cheered Mr. Paterno, some chanting "We love you, Joe," as he headed to practice roughly two miles away.
Former Penn State wide receiver Gregg Garrity, whose diving 47-yard touchdown catch in the 1983 Sugar Bowl clinched the Nittany Lions' first national championship, said he's not sure if Mr. Paterno will survive the season.
"It doesn't look good for Joe," said Mr. Garrity, who graduated from North Allegheny High School and lives in Bradford Woods. "I hope he does [survive], because I think he's earned the right to leave whenever he feels it's necessary to leave."
Fran Fisher, a former Penn State football radio broadcaster and athletic department employee who lived in Greensburg for several years, has been good friends with Mr. Paterno for years.
He called Mr. Paterno's first game as the Nittany Lions' coach in 1966 -- a 15-7 win over Maryland. But Mr. Fisher, 88, concedes Mr. Paterno "is facing his toughest challenge ever, but I don't think it's one he can't overcome."
Mr. Sandusky, Mr. Paterno's longtime defensive coordinator, was formally charged Saturday with multiple counts of sexually assaulting several young boys.
"I just know if someone would have done anything to my kids as horrible as they are alleging [with Mr. Sandusky], I'd probably be in jail for a long time," Mr. Garrity said. "It's hard to comprehend. I understand it is an illness. I don't even know if it can be treated. But still, it's a shock. I think it's a huge blow for Joe and for the whole university."
Mr. Paterno testified before the grand jury in the Sandusky case. He is not charged, and the grand jury report didn't implicate him in wrongdoing. Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly said Monday that Mr. Paterno is not the target of the investigation into how the school handled the accusations.
State police commissioner Frank Noonan said, as far as state police can tell, Mr. Paterno fulfilled his legal requirement to report the alleged assault by telling his superiors at the university.
"But somebody has to question about what I would consider the moral requirements for a human being that knows of sexual things that are taking place with a child," Mr. Noonan said. "I think you have the moral responsibility ... not whether you're a football coach or a university president or the guy sweeping the building.
"I think you have a moral responsibility to call us."
Outside Mr. Paterno's house Tuesday night, the student-led rally quickly grew in size as word spread through social media. Many of the students carried signs. One read: "We Love you JoePa"; another said "I believe in two Js in my life: Jesus and JoePa."
The show of support prompted Mr. Paterno's wife, Sue, to come to the front door to acknowledge the crowd. She blew a kiss and returned inside.
A short time later, Scott Paterno came outside through the garage door and onto the driveway to address the students.
"Before you guys continue cheering, can we take a minute and say a prayer?" Scott Paterno told the crowd. "No matter how this works out, there is a horrible story involving a lot of kids getting hurt. Can you guys take a moment, say a prayer and then please feel free to cheer and show your support? But let's remember to show support for the victims first."
The students then formed a circle and had a moment of silence for the victims followed by more chants in support of the coach.
At about 6:05 p.m., Mr. Paterno arrived home from practice in a white minivan driven by director of football operations Tom Venturino. Mr. Paterno got out of the car to shake some hands and greet the students. Scott Paterno then escorted his father to the driveway, where he again thanked students for their support.
Later, he came to the window and again addressed the students, who by that time had made their way onto the lawn.
"I feel sorry for the victims," Mr. Paterno told the crowd. "God bless you. We are Penn State. We are a family."
Later Tuesday night, the students continued the rally as they moved to the Penn State administration building, Old Main.
Jeremy Katz, a freshman from Westchester, N.Y., heard about the rally through Facebook.
"I don't feel like there was any wrongdoing on his part," said Mr. Katz, one of the early ones to arrive. "He's getting blamed, which isn't right at all. He reported it. Other people aren't being accountable."
First Published November 9, 2011 12:49 am