Several Penn State assistant football coaches told ESPN that most of the team’s coaching staff was as stunned as the general public to learn of allegations that a former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, molested young boys.
“We’re fathers,” Ron Vanderlinden, Penn State’s linebackers coach, told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi. “We could not have lived with ourselves for nine years having known something like that.”
Vanderlinden was referring to a 2002 incident in which Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant who later became an assistant football coach, claimed he told legendary head football coach Joe Paterno and other authorities that he saw Sandusky abusing a boy in a locker room.
“There’s been a lot of assumptions made about what people knew,” said Jay Paterno, a Penn State assistant coach and son of Joe Paterno, also speaking to ESPN. “I think that’s the hardest thing. There’s been a lot of things that are inaccurate.”
“We did not know,” he added. “There’s some guys that weren’t even here at the time [of the alleged 2002 incident] and they couldn’t know.”
Sandusky, he noted, retired in 1999, and in recent months he has seen him only occasionally, “in passing” around Penn State facilities.
“Most of us found out [about the allegations] when investigators came and began to ask questions,” Jay Paterno said. “Most of us knew so little we weren’t even called to the grand jury” that was reviewing evidence against Sandusky.
“It was kind of a surprise to a lot of us,” Jay Paterno said. “Shocking, because it was something that we were not aware of.”
“People look from the outside in and judge all of us because the brush is broad,” Larry Johnson, another Penn State assistant, told ESPN. “There are great men in that building. There are godly men in that building.
“I was shocked like everyone else when I read it,” he added.
Both Johnson and Jay Paterno said they didn’t see Sandusky deny the charges against him in a recent TV interview, in which Sandusky admitted to “horsing around” with young boys, showering with them and touching them without sexual intent.
“I stayed away from it,” Johnson said of the interview. “I didn’t want to hear comments. I’ve seen enough. I’ve heard enough. My heart couldn’t take it anymore. … I needed to focus on doing the best job for our players.”
In fact, several Penn State assistant coaches who sat for interviews with ESPN Friday said that if the charges against Sandusky were true, they are disgusted.
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“You have to think about kids that are going to bed at night and really fighting some demons and innocence lost,” Jay Paterno told ESPN. “That’s heart wrenching when you think about [the fact] that goes on in this country.”
He added that his parents have been particularly affected by the thought of how young people were victimized after they devoted large parts of their lives to helping them.
The coaches also voiced regret that the scandal cost Joe Paterno his job after 46 years at the helm and led to his name being removed from the Big 10 championship trophy.
“Let’s get there and win it and put it back on there,” Jay Paterno said. “We’ll bring our own Post-It note.”
On top of everything else, it was revealed today that Joe Paterno has been diagnosed with lung cancer.
Amid all the setbacks, Jay Paterno said he was able to return some advice his father once gave him after college as he was looking for direction in his life: a New York Times article that he said contained a quote from Richard Nixon to Ted Kennedy after the Chappaquiddick scandal - ” A man is not finished when he’s defeated. He is finished when he quits.”
“I basically wrote that quote down for my dad and gave it back to him,” Jay Paterno said. “And I said, ‘You don’t remember giving me this article, do you?’ He said, ‘I do.’”