The trial of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has once again laid bare the ugly underbelly of a scandal that rocked the State College campus last November and led to the dismissal of the late legendary head coach Joe Paterno.
Paterno was fired by the university, in part, because the board of trustees felt the coach didn’t do enough or go far enough when presented with information that his former assistant may have sexually abused a young boy in a shower of the program’s football building. That dismissal was controversial and unfathomable in some parts at the time it happened last November, and remains that way to some people, including one of the most decorated head coaches in the history of college basketball.
In an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan that aired Friday night, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski blasted the university not only for the firing itself, but for how the situation was handled leading up to the dismissal.
“It was horrible, and I’ve respected Coach Paterno my entire life and had a chance to get to know him really well in the last year of his life,” says Krzyzewski. “I thought it was really not well done in handling the situation that – it’s a difficult situation to encounter.”
“You had somebody who’s given six decades of service to the university and done such an incredible job. Somehow, you have to let – something has to play out and respect the fact that you’ve gone through all these experiences for six decades,” he insists. “It doesn’t just go out the window right at the end. I thought it was a real mistake by Penn State’s leadership.”
(Writer’s note: the “firing” and “handling” were merely sad; the “horrible” part was the — alleged — on-campus sexual assaults of young boys and no adult being willing to step in and protect them from a — alleged — pedophile, but that’s beside the point.)
The fact that Krzyzewski is so steadfast in his defense of Paterno is far from surprising. The two legendary coaches became close in the last year of Paterno’s life, taping a show together last summer titled “Difference Makers: Life Lessons with Paterno and Krzyzewski.”
In that show, the two discussed, ironically enough and among other things, ethics and integrity. When Krzyzewski was asked by Morgan how he would’ve handled the situation if he would’ve been in Paterno’s shoes, the hoops coach seemed to suggest that stepping down gracefully may have been the best tack to take. Paterno, you might remember, offered to resign after the season before he was fired.
“[I]f that solution meant that I would step down, I would do it in a way which would be part of the solution, not like you’re just throwing [me] out,” Krzyzewski said. “You [need] to understand that in leadership, you may be asked to step down, and that’s part of being a leader.”