HARRISBURG (AP) – Gov. Tom Corbett said Thursday he has never condemned the late Penn State coach Joe Paterno for his actions regarding now-convicted child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky, and he “never will,” citing what he called the “unusual circumstances” surrounding what happened.
The Republican governor, now in the middle of a re-election campaign, also told The Associated Press that he regrets that the Penn State board decided to fire Paterno by phone rather than in person. The governor was a voting trustee when the scandal broke in November 2011.
“When they were talking about the whole thing I said, ‘You’ve got to remember the children,”’ Corbett said. “Since that date the only thing I have said about Joe Paterno is I’ve quoted him. As he said, I wish he would have done more. I’ve not condemned, one way or the other, never have, never will. These are unusual circumstances.”
Corbett said his recollection was that he did not take part in a voice vote on Paterno’s firing. But other accounts said that the proposal to fire Paterno was made and that no board members objected. The report for Penn State by former FBI director Louis Freeh said trustees’ recollections of Corbett’s role in the discussion differed.
Corbett said when he hung up from the trustees’ conference call that night the board had not decided how they were going to tell Paterno he was no longer the coach. They ended up having someone deliver a note directing Paterno to call a phone number, and when he did, board vice president John Surma fired him.
“If I had known that, I would have insisted they do it in person,” Corbett said. “Man up.”
In 2001, assistant coach Mike McQueary had contacted Paterno at his home to complain about Jerry Sandusky, then retired after decades as the school’s top defensive coach, in the Penn State showers with a boy. Paterno in turn notified the athletic director, but the complaint did not result in a criminal investigation and it would be more than a decade until he was charged.
McQueary testified against Sandusky at trial in 2012. Jurors convicted Sandusky of indecent assault and other offenses related to that victim but acquitted him of the most serious charge, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. Overall, Sandusky was convicted of 45 of 48 counts involving 10 victims and is serving a lengthy prison sentence.
The Freeh report concluded that Paterno and three other top administrators covered up information about Sandusky’s actions to avoid bad publicity. Paterno’s family has vehemently denied that allegation.
Paterno’s firing in 2011, three months before he died of lung cancer, remains a sore spot among many Penn State alumni and fans. But the governor said he does not believe the scandal is hurting him politically in his campaign for a second term.
Corbett acknowledged some voters dislike his role in Paterno’s firing, but many others have moved on.
“I think when it comes to an election, the vast majority of the people are going to vote on the two candidates, not just vote on Penn State,” he said during a wide-ranging interview in his official residence in Harrisburg.
Corbett was attorney general when the Sandusky investigation began in 2009 and also a candidate for governor during the second year of the probe in 2010. The state’s new Democratic attorney general, Kathleen Kane, had suggested that Corbett may have slowed down the investigation because of donations and other support he had received from Penn State trustees and those linked to a Sandusky charity.
Corbett declined to say whether he believes Kane should apologize to him.
Penn State has removed the governor as a voting member of the university board but he remains a member ex officio.