The Penn State University's Board of Trustees announced late Wednesday night that it had ousted school president Graham Spanier and legendary head football coach Joe Paterno, amid a child sex abuse scandal under their watch involving a former assistant coach.
“These decisions were made after careful deliberations and best interests of the university as a whole," said John Surma, vice chairman of the university board, during a news conference held following the board's meeting.
"The past several days have been absolutely terrible to the Penn State community," Surma said. "But the outrage is nothing compared to the physical and psychological suffering that allegedly took place."
"I am disappointed with the Board of Trustees' decision, but I have to accept it. A tragedy occurred, and we all have to have patience to let the legal process proceed. I appreciate the outpouring of support but want to emphasize that everyone should remain calm and please respect the university, its property and all that we value," Paterno said in a statement after the announcement.
"I have been incredibly blessed to spend my entire career working with people I love. I am grateful beyond words to all of the coaches, players and staff who have been a part of this program. And to all of our fans and supporters, my family and I will be forever in your debt," he continued.
Tom Bradley, an assistant coach and defensive and cornerbacks coach, has been announced as the interim head coach ahead of Penn State's Saturday game against Nebraska.
Paterno's former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, is accused of molesting at least eight boys between 1994 and 2009.
The status of a witness to one of the alleged acts, Mike McQueary, remains unchanged. At the time McQueary was a graduate assistant, and currently is a receivers coach for the team.
"I am heartbroken to think that any child may have been hurt and have deep convictions about the need to protect children and youth," Spanier said in a statement after his firing. "My heartfelt sympathies go out to all those who may have been victimized. I would never hesitate to report a crime if I had any suspicion that one had been committed."
"Penn State and its Board of Trustees are in the throes of dealing with and recovering from this crisis, and there is wisdom in a transition in leadership so that there are no distractions in allowing the University to move forward," he continued. "The acts of no one person should define this university."
Before the announcement, Paterno announced Wednesday he will retire at the end of the season, saying, "I wish I had done more" to help the victims of alleged sex abuse by his former assistant.
"I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case," Paterno said in a statement obtained by Fox News. "I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief."
"It is one of the great sorrows of my life," Paterno said. "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."
The 84-year-old Paterno has been besieged by criticism since Sandusky was charged over the weekend with sexually abusing eight young boys between 1994 and 2009. Athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with failing to notify authorities after an eyewitness reported a 2002 assault.
"Right now, I'm not the football coach, and that's something I have to get use to," Paterno said to students after the announcement outside of his home Wednesday night.
The U.S. Education Department said Wednesday night that it is investigating whether Penn State failed to report incidents of sexual abuse on campus, as required by federal law.
Though Paterno is not accused of any wrongdoing, he has been questioned over his apparent failure to follow up on a report of the 2002 incident, in which Sandusky allegedly sodomized a 10-year-old boy in the showers at the team's football complex. A witness, Mike McQueary, is currently receivers coach for the team but was a graduate assistant at the time.
McQueary told Paterno about the incident the next day, and the coach notified Curley and Schultz, who in turn notified Penn State president Graham Spanier. Curley and Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report the incident to authorities, as required by state law.
Both men, as well as Paterno, testified that they were told that Sandusky behaved inappropriately in that 2002 incident, but not to the extent of McQueary's graphic account to a state grand jury.
"I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today," Paterno said in the statement.
"That's why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address," he said.
Paterno, who earns about $1 million annually from the school, has been head coach for 46 years and part of the Penn State staff for more than six decades, and his old-school values pervade every corner of the program.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.