(STATE COLLEGE, Pa.) — Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno admits that he was taken aback by accusations that a former assistant had raped a boy in the school showers and he did not know how to handle it.
Paterno, 85, told the Washington Post that the young aide who came to him in 2002 with a report that he had seen Jerry Sandusky allegedly fondling a boy in the lockerroom did not go into details.
“You know, he didn’t want to get specific. And to be frank with you I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man,” Paterno said.
But even the few details that Paterno did hear baffled him.
“I didn’t know which way to go,” he said. “And rather than get in there and make a mistake ….”
At another point, Paterno said, “I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”
A day after he was alerted to what he says was a general accusation against Sandusky, Paterno says, “I called my superiors and I said, ‘Hey, we got a problem, I think. Would you guys look into it?’ Cause I didn’t know, you know.”
Paterno, who had coached at Penn State for 61 years and built the team into a natonal powerhouse, was fired in midseason along with the school’s president after the 2002 allegation became public.
The grand jury report that indicted Sandusky on 50 counts of sexually abusing boys also said that no school official called police, that others obstructed the investigation, and detailed previous allegations against Sandusky that had not prompted the school to limit his access to its facilities.
Paterno’s abrupt dismissal has prompted outrage, first by loyal students who affectionately refer to him as “Joe Pa,” and more recently by angry alumni who have demanded the board of directors step down over their treatment of Paterno.
His health has also suffered. Paterno has undergone chemotherapy for lung cancer and recently broke his hip. The Washington Post reported that he spoke in a whisper, wore a wig and sat in a wheelchair during the first of a two-part interview. For the second interview, Paterno stayed in bed.
Paterno and his wife Sue said they learned that he was fired about 10 p.m. one night when the doorbell rang and Sue was silently handed a note with a name and phone number on it.
Paterno called the number of John Surma, vice chairman of trustees.
“In the best interests of the university, you are terminated,” Paterno says he was told.
When asked if he thought that was fair, the coach said, “Whether it’s fair I don’t know, but they do it.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Elise Labott, Kevin Liptak and Patrick Oppmann, CNN
Jackie Wattles, CNN