HARRISBURG Pa. (Reuters) - Two former assistant football coaches at Penn State University, including the son of disgraced former head coach Joe Paterno, are suing the school for actions they say wrecked their careers in the wake of the child sex-abuse scandal.
Jay Paterno, who was quarterbacks coach for 12 seasons under his father, and Bill Kenney, the former offensive coach, were both fired in January 2012 by Bill O‘Brien, the coach who replaced the elder Paterno.
“The terminations ... had the effect of branding and stigmatizing plaintiffs as participants in the (Jerry) Sandusky scandal, and, by so doing, maligned plaintiff’s heretofore stellar reputations,” lawyers for the two men said in their complaint, filed on Monday in federal court in Philadelphia.
They are seeking more than $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages from the university.
Joe Paterno, who was one of the most successful coaches in college football, was replaced by O‘Brien after it became public that Jerry Sandusky, an assistant coach, sexually abused boys in a Penn State locker room and elsewhere.
Sandusky was convicted in June 2012 of 45 criminal counts of abusing 10 boys and is serving 30 to 60 years in prison. Joe Paterno, along with other school officials, was accused of covering up Sandusky’s abuse. The school’s board fired him, and he died of lung cancer in January 2012.
Kenney and the younger Paterno do not offer any direct evidence in their lawsuit of Penn State officials slandering them directly.
Rather, they say, they were maligned by implication, for example by the university’s failure to say publicly that they were not being fired for any connection to the Sandusky scandal.
Paterno says he was refused interviews for the head coaching positions at, among others, University of Connecticut and James Madison University despite having worked at both as an assistant earlier in his career.
He was likewise rebuffed, he says, by ESPN, CBS Sports, and Fox Sports for commentator jobs. His claims could not be immediately verified.
He is presently unemployed, but has a book about his father coming out in September.
Kenney was likewise rebuffed by several schools, the lawsuit said, although he is presently an assistant coach at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.
Lisa M. Powers, spokeswoman for Penn State, said it is “common practice for incoming head coaches to select their own coaching staff.” She said the school would add no further comment.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Sandra Maler