Penn St. board says Paterno, Spanier fired for "failure of leadership"

BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania Mon Mar 12, 2012 1:07pm EDT

1 of 3. Penn State University football head coach Joe Paterno shares a laugh with reporters during a news conference held in Orlando.

BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Penn State's Board of Trustees on Monday defended its firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno and the university's president, saying they showed a "failure of leadership" in not doing more when alerted to suspicions of child sexual abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

Paterno and Graham Spanier were fired in November after Sandusky was accused of sexually abusing young boys over a 15-year period.

Many alumni were upset over the sacking of Paterno, who was head coach for 46 years. With 409 victories at Penn State, he won more games in big-time college football than any other coach in the sport's history.

The board said on Monday it issued its report at the request of Penn State students, faculty and alumni.

In it, the board reiterated early accounts that a graduate student told Paterno in 2002 about seeing Sandusky "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature" to a boy in showers on campus.

Paterno told his immediate supervisor, Athletic Director Tim Curley, but did not call police, the report said. The board said it learned the details of Paterno's actions in a grand jury report.

"We determined that his decision to do his minimum legal duty and not to do more to follow up constituted a failure of leadership by Coach Paterno," the report said.

Sandusky, who faces 52 counts of sexual abuse, has maintained his innocence.

A hearing in his case was held on Monday in Centre County Court, Pennsylvania, where Sandusky's defense attorney pressed prosecutors to provide more details from accusers in the case.

Sandusky did not attend, and attorneys said he is not expected to appear in court until jury selection begins in his trial in mid-May. He is under house arrest.

The Penn State board said in its report that it regretted telling Paterno of its decision by telephone. It said his home was surrounded by media and there was no "dignified, private" way to meet him there.

Spanier, it said, "failed to meet his leadership responsibilities" after learning of the 2002 incident.

Spanier did not tell the board what he knew about the episode and also made statements to the media that were unauthorized or contradicted the board's instructions, it said.

Paterno died of lung cancer in January. Spanier remains a tenured professor, the board said.

At Monday's hearing, Sandusky's attorney Joe Amendola said it was unfair not to have more specific information for building a defense. Several of the accusers say in court documents that the alleged abuse occurred over several years, including one who said it began when he was 8 and lasted six years.

"We want to see if we have an alibi defense," Amendola said. "Mr. Sandusky has to go through virtually every day of his life to try to figure out things."

But prosecutor Joe McGettigan said the accusations came from "very troubled children."

"If the victims were capable of providing detail ... we would have done so," the prosecutor said

(Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Paul Thomasch)