Joe had to go.
That was the only logical conclusion to the growing sexual abuse scandal that has rocked Penn State University in State College, an isolated town so quaint and bucolic that even an Ohio State or Michigan fan would begrudgingly call it "Happy Valley." But after charges leveled by the Pennsylvania attorney general accuse Paterno's one-time heir apparent, Jerry Sandusky, of molesting eight boys between 1994 and 2009, that once-untainted moniker should be changed to "Cover Up Canyon."
In 1997, I arrived on Penn State's University Park campus as a freshman full of hope, as someone eager to create a fuller, more educated version of myself. And where better than at a university that prided itself on dignity, honor and the value of hard work? I soon joined the school's independent newspaper, The Daily Collegian, as a sports reporter and began covering the school's swimming and diving team before tackling other sports like lacrosse and ice hockey.
Within a few semesters, I found myself attending press conferences as a stringer for the Associated Press with "the Joe Paterno" and the vaunted defensive guru who would later allegedly sodomize a 10-year-old boy in the showers at the team's football complex in 2002. I was in the presence of greatness -- or so I thought.
Paterno's tenure at Penn State will come to a close at the end of this semester, but I suspect his God-like reverence by the university's 70,000-plus students will continue long past his living years. The two-time national champion is a college gridiron great, no question -- and in a place like central Pennsylvania, where football is more religion than sport, that carries as much weight as a hefty offensive lineman.
"I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case," Paterno said in a statement released Wednesday. "I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief … This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."
So do I Joe, so do I.
But Paterno -- who has not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing -- showed me all I need to know about him as a man when he waited a full day to relay a witness' account of rhythmic slapping noises emanating from a shower occupied by Sandusky and that poor 10-year-old boy. Paterno ultimately notified athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz, who in turn told president Graham Spanier. I suspect, however, that Paterno's reaction would have been quite different had that been one of his 16 grandchildren being violated by Sandusky.
With the 84-year-old coach's 46-year tenure at Penn State now all but in the rear-view mirror, the university's board of trustees should continue to clear house by ousting Spanier to start anew. It's the only way to begin the long, painful process of restoring innocence at the once-squeaky clean state school, and gives current and future students (who are paying tens of thousands of dollars per year, no less) a chance to reshape their disfigured reputation.
As any Penn State alumnus will tell you, an ubiquitous chant at every football game -- or frat party, for that matter -- is one that goes something like this: "We Are … Penn State!" Two short, independent jabs of verbiage intended to link us all; to show that we're in this together. I've witnessed Paterno himself lead the chant numerous times, including as recently as Tuesday night when dozens of students huddled outside his State College home.
But you know what, Mr. Paterno? How you behaved is not what Penn State embodies, or how any ethical, righteous person would have reacted in a similar situation. Sure, "with the benefit of hindsight," you say you wish you would have done more, but try telling that to Sandusky's alleged victims and their relatives who have witnessed first-hand the lost innocence of a child.
Paterno, who is now readying himself for a game -- yes, a game -- against Nebraska on Saturday, closed his five-paragraph statement by saying he now hopes to finish the season with "dignity and determination."
One of two ain't bad, I suppose.
Joshua Rhett Miller is a reporter for FoxNews.com. He graduated from Penn State in 2001.