It was growing late on the night of Nov. 9, 2011. John P. Surma, the chief executive of U.S. Steel and the vice chairman of Penn State University’s board of trustees, sat at a rectangular table at the Penn Stater Hotel. Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania was on the speaker phone. Other trustees were present, many emotionally spent.
The board, scrambling to address the child sexual abuse scandal involving the university and its football program, had already decided to remove Graham B. Spanier as president. Then, many of those present recalled this week, the tension in the room mounted. Joe Paterno’s future was next up. Surma announced that an agreement appeared to have been reached to fire Paterno, too — the trustees having determined that he had failed to take adequate action when he was told that one of his longtime assistants had been seen molesting a 10-year-old boy in Paterno’s football facility.
Surma, those present recalled, surveyed the other trustees — there are 32 — for their opinions and emotions before asking one last question: “Does anyone have any objections? If you have an objection, we’re open to it.”
No one in the room spoke. There was silence from the phone speakers. Paterno’s 46-year tenure as head coach of one of the country’s storied college football programs was over, and the gravity of the action began to sink in.