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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — After nearly a half-century on the job, Joe Paterno says he is still getting used to the idea of not being Penn State’s football coach. So is the rest of the shaken campus, after one of the most tumultuous days in its history.
In less than 24 hours Wednesday, the winningest coach in major college football announced his retirement at the end of the season — then was abruptly fired by the board of trustees.
Also ousted was Penn State President Graham Spanier — one of the longest-serving college presidents in the nation — as the university’s board of trustees tried to limit the damage to the school’s reputation from a child sex abuse scandal involving one of Paterno’s former assistant coaches.
Paterno’s firing sent angry students into the streets, where they shouted support for the 84-year-old coach and tipped over a news van.
In less than a week since former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with sexually assaulting eight boys over a 15-year period, the scandal has claimed Penn State’s storied head coach, its president, its athletic director and a vice president.
Paterno had wanted to finish out his 46th season but the board of trustees was clearly fed up with the scandal’s fallout.
“In our view, we thought change now was necessary,” board vice chairman John Surma said at a packed news conference where he announced the unanimous decision to oust Paterno and Spanier.
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will serve as interim coach, and the university scheduled a news conference with him for later Thursday. Provost Rodney Erickson will be the interim school president.
“I take this job with very mixed emotions due to the situation,” Bradley said at a news conference Thursday morning. “I have been asked by the board of trustees to handle this. I told them I would do it last night. I will proceed in a matter that Penn State expects.”
He also said: “I have no reservations about taking this job.”
Bradley said he called Paterno after the firings last night but declined to divulge what was said.
“I think that’s personal in nature,” he said.
However, when asked, he was clear about his admiration of and devotion to the man he is replacing for the time being.
“Coach Paterno has meant more to me than anybody except my father. I don’t want to get emotional talking about that,” Bradley said. “Coach Paterno will go down in history as one of the greatest men, who maybe most of you know as a great football coach. I’ve had the privilege and the honor to work for him, spend time with him. He’s had such dynamic impact on so many, so many, I’ll say it again, so many people and players’ lives.”
He added: “It’s with great respect that I speak of him and I’m proud to say that I worked for him.”
As word of the firings spread, thousands of students flocked to the administration building, shouting, “We want Joe back!” and “One more game!” They then headed downtown to Beaver Avenue, where about 100 police wearing helmets and carrying pepper spray were on standby. Witnesses said some rocks and bottles were thrown, a lamppost was toppled and a news van was knocked over, its windows kicked out.
State College police said early Thursday they were still gathering information on any possible arrests.
Paterno had come under increasing criticism — including from within the community known as Happy Valley — for not doing more to stop the alleged abuse by Sandusky. Some of the assaults took place at the Penn State football complex, including a 2002 incident witnessed by then-graduate assistant and current assistant coach Mike McQueary.
McQueary went to Paterno and reported seeing Sandusky assaulting a young boy in the Penn State showers. Paterno notified the athletic director, Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz, who in turn notified Spanier.
Curley and Schultz have been charged with failing to report the incident to authorities. Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly has not ruled out charges against Spanier.