Two PSU trustees honor Paterno

STATE COLLEGE – Two Penn State trustees paid tribute Friday to the memory of the late Joe Paterno, the Hall of Fame football coach the school summarily dismissed amid the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Paterno died almost a year ago, just a few months after the trustees fired him following Sandusky’s stunning arrest.

Trustee Anthony Lubrano – who won a spot on the board largely on the strength of an alumni backlash over the board’s handling of the scandal, including Paterno’s dismissal – said the coach’s 61 years of service and “success with honor” could not be diminished.

Lubrano read a transcript of a speech Paterno gave to the board in 1983 after his program won the first of two national titles. Paterno had used the occasion to call for improvements in academics, and to raise more money for professors and scholarships.

The longtime coach’s legacy was tarnished after former FBI director Louis Freeh said in the school’s internal investigation that Paterno and three administrators acted to cover up allegations against Sandusky. The NCAA later vacated 111 victories under Paterno as part of sanctions, meaning Paterno is no longer major college football’s winningest coach.

Paterno’s family has firmly denied Freeh’s conclusions and any allegations of a cover-up.

The three administrators, including the former university president, are facing criminal charges and maintain their innocence. Sandusky is serving a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence following his conviction on 45 counts of sexual abuse. He too maintains his innocence.

Longtime trustee Alvin Clemens also honored the late Paterno during Friday’s regularly scheduled trustees meeting, listing athletic and academic accomplishments under Paterno’s watch and noting the coach’s philanthropic efforts.

Both Lubrano and Clemens received standing ovations from about half of the roughly 100 attendees in the audience. Their comments came after outgoing chairwoman Karen Peetz held a moment of silence for Paterno and more than a dozen graduates or contributors to the university who have died in the last year.

Paterno died on Jan. 22, 2012 of lung cancer at age 85. The way that trustees handled his dismissal, Freeh’s report and the NCAA sanctions remain a sore topic with factions of alumni, community residents and former players.

NCAA President Mark Emmert drew the ire of some alumni and fans for criticizing a “football-first culture” at the school.

Paterno was head coach for 46 seasons at Penn State, amassing a then-Division I record 409 victories before the NCAA sanctions.

“It’s extremely offensive when the NCAA accuses” the school of a culture problem, Clemens said. “I think we’re all appreciative of what he’s done for the university.”

Paterno’s family is also known locally for its charitable giving, including millions to help build a campus library that bears the Paterno name.

“Joe Paterno was an educator first and a football coach second,” Lubrano said. “We should all be proud of the culture he helped create.”

Some alumni, including members of a vocal watchdog group, have called for trustees still on the board at the time of Paterno’s November 2011 ouster to step down. They’ve questioned the motivations behind the actions of school leadership, including the removal of the bronze statue to Paterno that stood outside Beaver Stadium.

“The end of [Paterno’s] life was filled with betrayal and upheaval. He deserved so much better,” alumnus Cecilia Masella, 62, of Columbus, N.J., told the board during a public comment period “It is time for this university to properly honor his accomplishments.”

After the meeting, trustee Keith Masser reiterated the board’s position that it wasn’t yet the appropriate time to consider honoring Paterno. Masser was elected Friday to replace Peetz as board chair.