Posted: Wednesday November 9, 2011 11:51AM ; Updated: Wednesday November 9, 2011 2:03PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

Penn State facing difficult coaching transition amid scandal; more mail

Story Highlights

Joe Paterno's Penn State football program failed itself and its community

PSU facing most difficult coaching transition since Bear Bryant left 'Bama

Plus: LSU-Alabama backlash, Big East AQ prospects, SEC tiebreaker, more

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Part of my job is to digest and then analyze breaking news as quickly and insightfully as possible, but I have struggled deeply with the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky story.

I'm no expert in child molestation cases. Few people are. The breadth and magnitude of the sordid allegations in this case aren't something one can easily process in 45 minutes, or even 48 hours. I read and watched this week as many respected colleagues eviscerated Joe Paterno for what they perceived as a moral failing in his handling of Sandusky's alleged 2002 sexual assault of a 10-year-old boy in the Penn State locker room -- the mere thought of which makes me nauseous. But I prefer to tread cautiously before drawing conclusions about serious, life-altering legal matters. As ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil, a Penn State alum, eloquently wrote Monday: "If the Duke lacrosse case has taught us anything, we don't know what we don't know."

But as the story continued to unfold, one particular detail revealed Monday set me over the edge. Yahoo!'s Dan Wetzel reported that Sandusky was seen working out in Penn State's weight room as recently as LAST WEEK. Having already testified before the grand jury, Paterno was well aware Sandusky was under investigation for alleged sex crimes.

It doesn't matter what Paterno was or wasn't told that fateful day in 2002, or what he did or didn't do with that information. For the past nine years, perhaps even longer, there was a complete vacuum in leadership in the Penn State football program, from the head coach up to the president. We don't have enough information to ascertain whether their failure to take action against Sandusky was part of some sinister cover-up (as many are suggesting) or simply gross negligence. Either way, the program failed itself and its community by allowing an accused predator to continue committing an alleged series of heinous crimes that could have been prevented at least nine years earlier. Paterno was far from the only authority figure in the program who failed to do more, but he is the CEO. This happened under his watch. Ultimately, he bears the responsibility for that breakdown.

As a sportswriter, I'm not qualified to assess the criminal aspect of this story. I can only deal in the here and now, in which a legendary coach is about to exit the sport under a cloud of disgrace, and a program that long prided itself on doing things the right way may never be viewed the same way again.

"Everything ends badly, otherwise it would never end." The scandal at Penn State seems destined to radically change the culture of the school. Assuming JoePa will not be the coach at Penn State next year in the wake of the most disgusting scandal in college football in my lifetime, where does the program go without an athletic director or head coach?
-- Robert, Gainesville, Fla.

Even before the Sandusky allegations came out, Penn State was facing the most difficult coaching transition since Bear Bryant left Alabama. What coach in America would want to take on the gargantuan challenge of replacing a living legend? What qualities would that coach need to possess for the fan base to embrace him? Rumored candidate Urban Meyer seemed about the only one who could realistically come in and engender confidence from Day 1.

Now, the tables have turned. What coach in his right mind would want that job right now? Whoever it is will be walking into a tainted program in a despondent community that's watching everything it stood by for 45 years be desecrated. And he'll probably have little to no idea who he will be working for, because President Graham Spanier is likely down to his last days as well. For all its success, Penn State is not a magnet for recruits. Players who bought into the program were buying into The Paterno Way, as embodied by those classic uniforms. That's gone now. What's left for the next guy to sell?

If you're looking for a blueprint of what Penn State's program is about to face, look no further than Colorado. In 2004, a Boulder district attorney -- while giving a deposition in a civil suit filed by two women who alleged they were raped at a party attended by Buffaloes players and recruits -- accused the football program of using sex and alcohol as recruiting tools. A media firestorm ensued much like the one currently enveloping Penn State. Nine women, including former kicker Katie Hnida, wound up accusing football players of sexual assault. When all was said and done, the president, chancellor and athletic director all resigned. Coach Gary Barnett lasted another two seasons, but was ultimately blackballed from coaching, despite two separate investigations that found he did nothing wrong. Unlike this Penn State story, no one was ever prosecuted or even arrested, yet seven years later, that program is still a shell of its former self.

I'm not predicting Penn State will sink to the bottom of the Big Ten. Frankly, its on-field future is the least of anyone's concerns right now. But the Penn State community -- one of the tightest out there -- will be hard-pressed to remain united when it's already so divided between JoePa's defenders and JoePa's horrified critics. And it will be a tall chore convincing parents to send their sons to play in State College until the stigma from this scandal fades, which could take years. It's a sad day in Happy Valley, but the school has only itself to blame. It allowed Paterno to keep ruling his fiefdom unabated well into his 80s, even as it was evident he was no longer capable. It probably seemed harmless as long as the Nittany Lions kept winning. It turns out more harm was allegedly done than anyone could ever have imagined.

 
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