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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

Barry Switzer knew Joe Paterno's career could end only one way.

Once he saw the footage of the Penn State coach standing on his lawn, talking to reporters and admitting to the world that he should've done more, the former Oklahoma coach realized his fate was sealed. He would be forced out. He would be fired.

“I knew that it would come to this,” Switzer said.

It had to.

“They did the right thing at the university,” he said. “The university had to do this, and it was the right thing to do.”

He paused and sighed.

“It's a tragic, sad story. There are no winners here.”

He paused again.

“There are no winners at all.”

College athletics has never seen anything like what has unfolded this past week at Penn State. Heavens, sports has never seen anything worse. There has been no bigger scandal, no worse indignity. This goes beyond athletes trading memorabilia for tattoos or boosters taking recruits on ritzy harbor cruises or agents paying rent for a superstar's parents. This goes beyond trouble that has rocked Ohio State and Miami and USC and so many others. This even goes beyond the wild west days at Oklahoma.

Yes, those were ugly, awful times in Norman that forced Switzer out the door and embarrassed an entire state. But the details of what happened then don't make your skin crawl like the never ending news stream flowing these days from Happy Valley.

Ironically, it was Paterno who took aim at Switzer nearly three decades ago. He proclaimed that he wouldn't retire and “leave college football to the Jackie Sherrills and Barry Switzers of the world.” He quickly apologized to Switzer, and the two became friends in the years that followed.

Switzer even wrote extensively about Paterno in his book.

But no excuses — Paterno had to go.

“Having been in this profession a long time and knowing how close coaching staffs are, I knew that this was a secret that was kept secret,” Switzer said. “Everyone on that staff had to have known, the ones that had been around a long time.”

Those are chilling words. They are the most disturbing missives, not in a week filled with heinous reports and atrocious news, but read again what Switzer said. Everyone had to have known.

Everyone.

If that doesn't cause a chill to run up your spin, nothing will.

“You think that a 13-year assistant … hasn't told someone else?” Switzer said. “His wife? His father? People knew. The community knew.”

He's right, of course. State College is like many college towns, big enough to have the diversity of a larger city but small enough to have the familiarity of a tinier town. It is an idyllic setting for many folks.

Continue reading this story on the...

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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