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Paterno ‘probably’ shouldn’t have been fired, Corbett says

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Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Gov. Tom Corbett speaks to the media during a visit to 4moms in the Strip District on Friday, July 11, 2014.
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Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno “probably” should not have been fired, Gov. Tom Corbett said Thursday.

HARRISBURG — Joe Paterno “probably” should not have been fired, Gov. Tom Corbett said Thursday.

In his most expansive comments since the child sex-abuse scandal erupted at Penn State University three years ago, the outgoing governor said Paterno “technically complied with the law” in his dealings with pedophile Jerry Sandusky and should have been allowed to end his career on the field.

“They probably shouldn’t have fired him, they probably should have suspended him,” Corbett said in an exclusive interview. “He probably should have been given the last three games, not on the sideline.”

Corbett’s comments, two days after he lost a re-election bid, are likely to give new ammunition to the Penn State faithful who for years have assailed university trustees and Corbett, who as attorney general began the investigation into Sandusky, for blaming and firing Paterno.

The coach died less than three months after being ousted. An investigation commissioned by Penn State’s trustees concluded that Paterno and other top administrators missed or ignored signs that Sandusky, a longtime assistant football coach, was sexually abusing young boys on and off campus.

Many of the critics who challenge those findings used social media to organize an effort to flood the polls this week and vote against Corbett.

The governor acknowledged that might have been a factor, though not the only one, in his loss to Tom Wolf.

He called it “one additional coal or reason to vote against me for some people.”

Corbett said the university trustees — a board on which he sits as governor — never recovered from the decision to fire Paterno because, after that, the focus shifted away from where it should have been: on Sandusky and his crimes against children.

The trustees meet in State College next week for the last time this year, a meeting that could again stoke the issue. He made the comments days after revelations that the NCAA questioned its own authority to levy sanctions, including a bowl ban and a $60 million fine on Penn State for its handling of the Sandusky matter.

On the November 2011 night that the board decided to fire Paterno and Penn State President Graham Spanier, Corbett said he was conferenced in to the board’s meeting from his Harrisburg residence. He said there was a voice vote, but he did not express an opinion because he had been privy to investigative and grand jury information in the case.

His comments appear to reflect a softening of his stance.

In the days after Paterno’s firing, Corbett appeared to defend the decision. He told Fox News at the time: “I always have said your actions speak louder than your words. That should not have been able to continue. The actions or the failure to act, while maybe not criminal, caused me not to have confidence in the president and in the coach.” More recently, he told The Associated Press he hadn’t condemned Paterno and “never will.”

Pressed Thursday on whether firing Paterno was the right decision, Corbett said: “You know me, I have to have evidence on everything. If it was clear he understood and did not do anything, yeah. But I’m not so sure it was clear to him. And technically, he complied with the law.”

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