Penn State's Mike McQueary goes from leader to outcast
By Bob Cohn
Published: Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011
Mike McQueary, hailed by former and current Penn State football players as one to lead by example, has become an outcast for apparently doing just the opposite.
McQueary, the Nittany Lions' wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, has been criticized for not doing enough to stop at least one alleged child-sex assault by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, as detailed in a grand jury presentment.
But that's not the McQueary former teammate Bob Stephenson knew.
"He was not afraid to be vocal," Stephenson said. "But at the same time, he led by example."
According to a grand jury report, McQueary testified that, as a 28-year-old graduate assistant in 2002, he saw Sandusky having sex with a young boy in the shower of a university athletic facility and "immediately" left, telling only his father and then-coach Joe Paterno but not police. Sandusky has been charged with 40 counts related to child-sex abuse of eight boys over 15 years.
McQueary has not been charged, but the university placed him on administrative leave. His testimony led to charges of perjury and failure to report against former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and a former vice president, Gary Schultz. His testimony also was a major reason for Paterno's firing during his 46th season as coach.
Paterno, who told Curley what McQueary related to him, has claimed that what McQueary told him was far less detailed than what McQueary told the grand jury. Paterno has not been charged.
Of all the faces of the scandal, McQueary's is among those at the fore. Once a nondescript assistant coach known best for his red hair, he has become a controversial figure nationwide.
This past week, the focus grew sharper when an email surfaced in which McQueary tells a friend that he did, in fact, stop the alleged incident and report it to police. Campus and local police say there is no record of McQueary reporting an incident.
As a kid, McQueary cheered for Notre Dame, not the hometown team, Penn State. As the star quarterback for State College Area High School, he longed to play for the Fighting Irish.
But Ron Powlus, another Pennsylvanian and the nation's top prep quarterback, had the same notion. Swayed by an impassioned recruiting pitch from Paterno, McQueary signed on and stayed home, patiently waiting before getting his chance to start as a fifth-year senior.
McQueary took a shot at the pros, but it didn't work out. He returned to Penn State to begin a coaching career and eventually became a familiar sight to many: the big, red-haired assistant wearing a headset on the sideline, the occasional recipient of a Paterno tirade when something went awry.
Lately, much has gone awry for Penn State and McQueary in ways no one could have imagined. McQueary is both star witness -- the only known witness capable of testifying in the child-sex case -- and polarizing figure for what he did or did not see and what he did or did not do. He has received multiple threats.
"He's doing about as well as you can through something like this," said his father, John McQueary, of State College.
Efforts to reach Mike McQueary were unsuccessful.
His former high school coach, Ron Pavlechko, has stopped granting interviews. A Cleveland Browns spokesman said receiver Jordan Norwood, who worked closely with McQueary at Penn State, would not comment. A Seattle Seahawks spokesman said another former McQueary pupil, receiver Deon Butler, "addressed the Penn State situation last week and would like not to revisit it."
On the other hand, McQueary seems to have unconditional support from current Penn State players.
"I want him out there. We need him out there. He has a good heart," cornerback Stephon Morris said.
"As far as coaches and player relationships, we have one of if not the best relationship with our coach on the team," said star receiver Derek Moye, a Rochester native.
Moye said it is always about more than football with McQueary, with conversational topics ranging from girlfriend problems to how classes are going. Moye said McQueary sometimes would tell players, "We're not even going to talk about football today. We're going to talk about life."
'Never lost focus'
McQueary's family moved to State College from North Carolina when he was 6. He graduated in 1997 with a degree in health planning and administration. According to the Penn State media guide, he is nearing completion of a master's degree in education administration.
In 1997, McQueary, a co-captain, helped lead Penn State to a 9-3 record and was named the team's outstanding senior. In his first start, a 34-17 win over Pitt, he broke school records for passing yards and total offense.
"He was very patient," Stephenson said. "He never lost focus, and he waited his turn. And when his turn came, he was ready to take the reins."
McQueary and Stephenson were co-winners of the Frank Patrick Memorial Award, given to the junior who excels in academics, community service and commitment to football.
McQueary was passed over in the NFL draft, and he signed a free-agent contract with the Oakland Raiders in 1998 but failed to make the squad. After a brief fling in NFL Europe, he returned to State College in 2000 as a graduate assistant and held that position until 2002. He spent the next year as an administrative assistant before being elevated in 2004 to wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator.
"Mike was one of the best X-and-O's guys I've ever been around," said former All-Big Ten quarterback Zack Mills, a four-year starter from 2001-04. "He knows the game inside-out, having played quarterback at such a high level. Combined with his passion and desire, he was a tremendous asset."
Although Jay Paterno was his quarterbacks coach, Mills said he interacted frequently with McQueary during his senior year.
"Mike was definitely around and able to give advice," Mills said. "During the game, with Mike on the field and Jay in the (press) box, I was constantly bouncing things off him. You know if a guy has it as a coach, and Mike definitely has it."
As a recruiter, McQueary helped bring Penn State "into the 21st century," said Bob Lichtenfels, the national recruiting manager for Scout.com.
"Penn State wasn't keeping up with the Joneses as far as technology," he said. "Penn State relied on just being Penn State. That works to a point, but there's so much more than that. (McQueary) did a good job with things like 'junior days,' making it an event, and he did a good job adding structure and making it more organized."
Assistant coaches such as Tom Bradley (now the interim head coach) and Larry Johnson Sr. "recruited well," Lichtenfels said, "but it didn't seem like Penn State was on a par with everybody else with things like Twitter and Facebook. (McQueary) organized that. I think he 'got it' more than anybody else -- how to work the system."
McQueary once aspired to be Penn State's head coach. Like the rest of the Nittany Lions' coaches, he is not expected to remain on staff beyond this season.
His future in football is in jeopardy -- his life, like so many others', inexorably changed.
Correspondent Audrey Snyder contributed to this report.
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