Franco Harris criticizes Penn State for firing Paterno
Steelers legend and Penn State great Franco Harris blasted Penn State's Board of Trustees for firing Joe Paterno, and promised to support his former coach by visiting him Saturday.
Paterno and president Graham Spanier were ousted Wednesday night amid a scandal in which former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged Saturday with 40 counts of sexual abuse, including incidents at the Lasch Building, which houses the football facilities on Penn State's University Park campus, after his retirement in 1999.
Athletic director Tim Curley and a vice president, Gary Schultz, also were charged with perjury in connection to their grand jury testimony in the case. Curley is on leave, while Schultz resigned.
"I feel that the board made a bad decision in letting Joe Paterno go," said Harris, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "I'm very disappointed in their decision. I thought they showed no courage, not to back someone who really needed it at the time. They were saying the football program under Joe was at fault.
"They really wouldn't give a reason. They're linking the football program to the scandal and, possibly, the cover up. That's very disturbing to me. ... I think there should be no connection to the football program, only in the case that it happened at the football building with an ex-coach. I'm still trying to find out who gave him access to the building, who signed that contract."
Harris also was critical of state police commissioner Frank Noonan for suggesting that Paterno had a "moral obligation" to report Sandusky had sexually assaulted a boy in the showers at the Lasch Building to the police once informed by an eyewitness, a 28-year-old graduate assistant coach later identified as current Penn State wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Mike McQueary.
"When I heard that, it blew my mind," Harris said. "Why would they bring the moral into the legal• Now, everyone gets to interpret in their own way. That's what really bothers me: Joe did what was right for him to do. He forwarded the information to his superiors. That's the legal procedure at Penn State.
"If I had to choose today between the moral integrity and character of Joe Paterno and the politicians and commentators criticizing him, I would pick Joe Paterno, hands down, no contest every time."
Harris also said he was "bothered" by the attacks on McQueary, who university officials said won't coach in or attend Penn State's game against Nebraska Saturday at Beaver Stadium because of threats made against him.
"People make fun of the fact that Mike went to his father, like a little kid," Harris said. "Because somebody went to a confidante, why is that childish• How Mike handled that situation, there is nothing I can comment on. People are different. Some people would have bashed (Sandusky's) head in. Mike followed procedure. Because some people higher up didn't do their job, he's suffering the consequences."