It's taken close to three days, but finally, mercifully, it appears that even Joe Paterno's most strident apologists are admitting he cannot continue as head football coach at Penn State. No reasonable person who bothered to read the Pennsylvania attorney general's finding of fact on the allegations against longtime Nittany Lions assistant Jerry Sandusky can come to any other conclusion.
Paterno is not the only university official who needs to answer for this ordeal, though.
Since news of Sandusky's alleged sexual contact with minors broke Saturday and Paterno's name has been dragged over the coals, one significant voice has been missing from the whole affair. Graham Spanier, the president of Pennsylvania State University, has issued a statement pledging "unconditional support" for athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz.
Spanier is a smart guy, boasting bachelor's and master's degrees from Iowa State and a Ph.D. from Northwestern, according to his online biography. Still, he appears to be less than astute in understanding how a leader responds in a crisis. His absence while everyone from The Daily Collegian to The New York Times wonders if this could be the end of the legendary coach's storied tenure reveals a lot about Spanier's apparent confusion.
Scratch that. Not "confusion." Maybe a better word is "neglect."
Spanier doesn't need to be an expert in p.r. to understand what "unconditional" means, though. It means he supports Curley and Schultz through everything, even if they knowingly covered up criminal actions by a person representing the university.
If that's really the level of support Spanier wishes to express for his A.D. and vice president, so be it. That's a big sword to fall on.
Nobody made a bigger mistake on Tuesday than Paterno did when he allowed the university to cancel his weekly media availability. Many observers were reserving judgment until he had offered an explanation. By canceling his news conference, he saved himself a stream of frustrated, combative questions, but he came off looking like someone with something to hide. The result was outrage at full-tilt on the Internet by Tuesday afternoon.
As the most influential college football coach in America, Paterno owes his fans and his university's students an honest word. Yet he is, technically, an employee under Spanier — an employee who is paid more handsomely than any other employee at a Pennsylvania public institution of education, but an employee regardless. One could argue — ineffectively — that it's not Paterno's responsibility to address the situation.
Spanier can make no such argument. In a crisis such as this, the president's voice should be loudest. But the head Lion had barely peeped.