Penn State tragedy: Barry Switzer says Joe Paterno had to go

COMMENTARY — Former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer says the closeness of coaching staffs and the continuity of Joe Paterno's Penn State staff makes one thing almost certain: “Everyone on that staff had to have known.”
by Jenni Carlson Modified: November 10, 2011 at 3:23 pm •  Published: November 10, 2011

But everybody tends to know everybody's business.

Much like Norman where people knew there were problems with the Sooner program before players started shooting guns off the dorm balcony, people in State College had to know something was amiss with Jerry Sandusky.

“There are more people culpable than just Joe Paterno and the athletic director,” Switzer said via telephone while traveling in Texas. “There are so many other people that have thought, ‘I could've done something about this, too' that didn't come forward. That's the tragedy of it.”

That is the tragedy. The adults who had the power to protect kids from a monster. The adults who passed the buck and expected someone else to take care of the problem. The adults who could've saved at least eight little boys from carrying the scars of sexual abuse for the rest of their lives.

And among those adults is Paterno, the man who'd been seen as one of sports' most honorable coaches at one of college football's most upstanding programs.

“There's no university immune to this,” Switzer said. “No one is immune to what happened at Penn State or what happened at Oklahoma. It happened years ago, and it'll happen years in the future.

“People make poor decisions, poor choices, and this is what can occur.”

But how?

How can such powerful programs and commanding coaches lose control like this?

“I'll tell you how it happens — it's the American sports phenomenon,” Switzer said. “I've seen it happen all my life; we've made coaches and players and athletes more than what we are. It's what happens in American sports. Because of that, they've gotten away with more than they should have.

“These students the other night, I watched ‘em occupy State College, and I thought, ‘They don't understand.' If they stopped and thought about … how many people were involved and knew this and did nothing, they just haven't lived long enough.

“And what they've done is try to support somebody the university can't support.”

No one knows better than Switzer how difficult it is to be forced out of a job that you love from a program that you built at a university that you champion. But he also knows that there was no other conclusion for Paterno.

Joe had to go.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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