Thursday, Nov 10 at 11:28 PM
UTSA football coach Larry Coker is generally in a lighthearted mood when he talks with the media after practice.
That wasn’t the case Wednesday morning when he opened his post-workout remarks with his thoughts on the child sex-abuse scandal involving former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
The serious look on Coker’s face reflected his feelings not only as a coach, but as a grandfather of two 10-year-old boys.
“It’s a horrible, horrible story,” Coker said. “You guys hate it. Everybody hates it. I hate it for a lot of reasons – for Penn State, for Coach Paterno, but also for those victims. Sometimes that’s almost forgotten in the story. That’s a lifelong thing, a lifelong thing.”
Coker made his comments before learning that Joe Paterno had announced he was retiring at the end of the season, and some 12 hours before the Penn State board of trustees fired Paterno on Wednesday night.
But even then, Coker figured Paterno’s 46-year tenure as the Nittany Lions’ head coach was coming to an end.
“I can’t imagine being on the sideline this weekend for the Nebraska,” Coker said. “No, I don’t see any way that he can carry on. I really don’t.
Penn State (8-1) plays Nebraska on Saturday in its last home game of the season. Paterno, 84, ranks No. 1 among Football Bowl Subdivision coaches in career victories with 409.
Although Paterno had announced earlier in the day that he was retiring at the end of the current season, the Penn State board of trustees voted to oust the coach who started his long career at the school as an assistant coach in 1950. The trustees also fired Penn State president Graham Spanier.
Former assistant coach Sandusky arrested Saturday
The normally placid Penn State campus has been reeling since Saturday when Sandusky, once the heir apparent to Paterno, was arrested and charged with molesting eight boys between 1994 and 2009.
Paterno ostensibly lost his job because he did not do enough after a Penn State graduate assistant coach reported to him in 2002 that he had seen Sandusky showering in the Penn State locker room with a boy he estimated to be 10 years old.
Although Paterno reported the incident to athletic director Tim Curley, the coach has been roundly criticized by police and the public for not doing more to stop Sandusky.
“The thing that’s shocking about it is that it’s been a decade that’s it gone on,” Coker said. “It doesn’t bode well. A lot of wrong decisions were made and a lot of heads are going to roll, and should.
“But by the same token, in that decade, a lot of those young boys are damaged for those 10 years or more. To me, in all the years I’ve coached, I can’t think of a sadder situation than what I’m hearing about the Penn State situation.”
Coker, 63, faced Paterno and the Nittany Lions when he coached at Ohio State and Miami.
The Hurricanes beat Penn State 33-7 at State College, Pa., in their 2001 season opener, which marked Coker’s debut as Miami head coach. The Hurricanes went on to win the Bowl Championship Series national title that season.
Coker: ‘This is tragic’
Coker said he met Sandusky, 67, at coaching clinics but doesn’t know him. Sandusky was on Paterno’s staff for 31 seasons, from 1969-1999, before retiring.
“If you think about Coach Sandusky and how long he was with Coach Paterno, it wasn’t like he was somewhat of an unknown,” Paterno said. “He was almost like a brother or a fatherly figure. You know, I’m an old guy. I’m very naïve. I don’t want to believe things like that happen, but we know that they do.
“I’ve got two 10-year-old grandsons. I just can’t fathom that. I really can’t. Coach Sandusky is obviously ill. What else can you say? He needs help.”
Coker said the end of Paterno’s career evokes memories of the ugly way another iconic coach, Woody Hayes of Ohio State, went out. But there is a difference, Coker was quick to point out.
Hayes was fired for punching a Clemson player in the 1978 Gator Bowl.
“That wasn’t tragedy; it was sad,” Coker said. “This is tragic. All the things that went on are very, very sad. It’s very disappointing to see Coach Paterno go out that way.
“In this profession, that’s usually the way you go out. Not many go out on top. You look at Don Shula and you look at these other great coaches, Tom Landry, and on and on.”
Sadly, Joe Paterno’s legacy will be tainted in a way that no one would have ever imagined was possible.