KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. – Former Penn State running back Franco Harris doesn't believe Joe Paterno's firing was in the school's best interest and urged alumni to be relentless.
Speaking to a gathering of about 300 on Thursday, Harris received a standing ovation as he delivered his message.
Paterno's dismissal, and the school's handling of it, has been a hot-button issue for the former Pittsburgh Steeler.
"I can't understand why it happened. Us, as an alumni, we have to be relentless. We have to keep fighting for Penn State," he said. "We can't let the board of trustees or the media write the final chapter."
In the same hotel in suburban Philadelphia, school President Rodney Erickson held the second of three town hall events aimed at repairing the school's image in the aftermath of child sex abuse charges against retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The 650 alumni in attendance for the sometimes heated 90-minute session didn't receive him well, and most of their questions involved concerns over Paterno's firing.
Harris, too, questions Erickson's leadership.
"A lot of the answers that we want from the university aren't coming forward. When they do say something, even today, what I most recently heard, they think we're dumb," Harris said. "They want us to believe it was in the best interest of the school to fire Joe Paterno. No way was that in the best interest of the school."
At his forum, Harris asked for "real talk." The session began after 8 p.m., and as people began to filter out 2½ hours later, Harris played a Penn State football commemorative DVD.
"I find it hard to believe that on Nov. 9th, that all 32 board members wanted Joe Paterno fired," Harris said. "Hopefully, someone will come forward and admit they didn't want Joe Paterno fired. This wasn't a football problem. If had been a football issue, believe me, Joe Paterno would have handled this.
"The present leadership thinks it's right what happened and how this was handled. And we all know it was wrong. And this comes from our current leadership. They're hoping everything goes on as normal. All I want is the truth.
"I think we deserve it."
Harris said he called Erickson to ask him to consider rehiring Paterno but Erickson told him no. Harris did throw tepid support behind new Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and said he did not believe the next coach had to be from Penn State.
"But I do find it disturbing that not one of our people had any input at all in the decision," Harris said.
"But the thing that's upsetting to me is that this is labeled a football sex scandal and that our assistant coaches won't be able to get a job anywhere in the country. They should honor Joe. With their inaction, once again, they show Joe Paterno, all the good things he's done, and everything he's built, is not important."
Penn State's tumultuous year ended with a 30-14 loss to Houston in the TicketCity Bowl on Jan. 2. O'Brien was hired four days later.
"We can't let them get away with what they've done and what they're doing. They should rehire Joe Paterno for the first four games of next season and begin the transition right there," Harris said. "Otherwise, there is no closure. If Joe Paterno isn't hired back, I'm not going to the first four games."
Harris had the attention of the room the whole session. One supporter even blurted out that he should run for a board position at Penn State. Harris could only laugh before answering.
"You know, my running days are over."