November 10, 2011 / 2:57 PM / 7 years ago

Students protest firing of U.S. college coach Paterno

* Famed college football coach Paterno sacked amid scandal

* Paterno led Penn State to more wins that any other coach

By Edith Honan

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., Nov 10 (Reuters) - Thousands of Penn State University students took to the streets around campus overnight on Thursday to protest the sacking of their beloved football coach, Joe Paterno, in the fallout from a child abuse scandal and cover-up.

Chanting “Hell no, Joe won’t go” and “We want Joe back,” students overturned a television van during the protest in the university town of State College.

Scores of police and state troopers, some in riot gear, tried to clear the streets, and some officers used pepper spray to disperse the demonstrators. Authorities were not immediately available to say whether there had been any arrests.

“I feel bad about the victims, obviously, and people are shocked. I have friends on the team and they are really upset about it,” said student Kele Powell, 19, on Thursday.

Penn State, its football program and Paterno, 84, — one of the most iconic names in American sports — were thrown into turmoil on Saturday when long-time assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, 67, was charged with sexually abusing at least eight young boys over a decade.

Two other university officials have also been charged with failing to report an incident in 2002 when Sandusky allegedly was seen sexually assaulting a child. Paterno was also made aware of the accusations in 2002 and said in a statement on Wednesday: “I wish I had done more.”

A ninth possible victim, now in his 20s, has since come forward and Pennsylvania police have set up a telephone hotline to receive information about the sexual abuse allegations.

The university’s board of trustees fired Paterno and Penn State University President Graham Spanier late on Wednesday, thwarting a bid by Paterno to leave on his own terms after a 46-year career as head coach.

Paterno has won two national championships, more games than any other college football coach and the adoration of Penn State’s students, alumni and staff. He has said earlier on Wednesday that he would step down at the end of the season, a few weeks from now.

The student newspaper The Daily Collegian published a commemorative 12-page tribute to Paterno under the headline “The End.” A full-page editorial described the firing of Paterno as an embarrassment for the university and said protests by students “set out university two steps back.”

Tom Bradley, currently the defensive coordinator, will take over as interim head coach, starting with Saturday’s final home game of the season against the University of Nebraska.

The scandal has rocked the sprawling campus of about 45,000 students in State College in central Pennsylvania, the flagship of about two dozen Penn State campuses across the state.

College football is hugely popular in the United States, drawing massive television audiences every Saturday in the late summer and fall and filling huge stadiums. Penn State University’s Beaver Stadium, which seats about 106,000, is one of the largest.

Teams generate million of dollars in revenue and successful ones raise the profile of their universities. That, in turn, helps fundraising — such as the $2 billion capital campaign now under way at Penn State.

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