STATE COLLEGE, Pa.
The day was always coming. The coach was 84, and each new season brought questions whether it would be his last. No one, though, expected it to happen quite like this.
The Penn State board of trustees voted unanimously to fire football coach Joe Paterno on Wednesday night amid the growing furor over how the school handled sex abuse allegations against a former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky.
Penn State president Graham Spanier, 63, one of the nation's longest-serving college presidents, also was ousted.
Speaking at his house to students, Paterno said, "Right now, I'm not the football coach, and that's something I have to get used to."
Late Wednesday, students poured into campus streets to express support for Paterno. He and his wife, Sue, came out of their home around midnight to thank them.
The massive shakeup came at the end of a day that started with Paterno announcing he planned to retire at the end of his 46th season, saying he wanted to finish with "dignity and determination." But the board decided he had to go immediately.
"The university is much larger than its athletic teams," board vice chair John Surma said during a packed news conference.
Paterno and Spanier were informed of the decision by telephone.
Spanier said in a statement Wednesday night that he was "stunned and outraged to learn that any predatory act might have occurred in a university facility" and said he would have reported a crime if he'd suspected one had been committed.
"I am heartbroken to think that any child may have been hurt and have deep convictions about the need to protect children and youth," he said. "My heartfelt sympathies go out to all those who may have been victimized."
The investigation is continuing. State Attorney General Linda Kelly said Monday that Paterno is not a target of the inquiry into how the school handled the matter, but she refused to say the same for Spanier.
State police Commissioner Frank Noonan earlier this week criticized school officials' handling of the allegations, saying, "a football coach or a university president or the guy sweeping the building" had a moral responsibility to call police if they suspected a child was being sexually abused. He also said Penn State had "a culture that did nothing to stop it or prevent it from happening to others."
Spanier has led Penn State since 1995. The mammoth university system headquartered in State College includes 96,000 students on 24 campuses and has an annual budget of about $4.3 billion.
Spanier is among the highest-paid public college presidents in the country, earning more than $800,500 in annual base pay, deferred compensation and retirement contributions, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Earlier in the day a tearful Paterno, who won more games than any coach in major college football history, told disbelieving players that he planned to retire at the end of the season because of the scandal involving Sandusky.
"In all the clips I've seen of him, I've never seen him break down and cry," quarterback Paul Jones said. "And he was crying the whole time today."
Paterno said in a statement he was "absolutely devastated" by the case, in which Sandusky has been charged with molesting eight boys in 15 years, with some of the alleged abuse taking place at the Penn State football complex.
Sandusky, who retired from Penn State in 1999, has maintained that he is innocent.
"This is a tragedy," Paterno said. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."
Paterno, whose current salary is $1.03 million, has come under harsh criticism for not taking more action in 2002 after then-graduate assistant and current assistant coach Mike McQueary came to him and reported seeing Sandusky in the Penn State showers with a 10-year-old boy. Paterno notified the athletic director, Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz.
Paterno is not a target of the criminal investigation. Curley and Schultz have been charged with failing to report the incident to the authorities.
The U.S. Department of Education said it has launched an investigation into whether Penn State failed to report incidents of sexual abuse.
A committee will be appointed Friday at the board's regular meeting, which Gov. Tom Corbett said he plans to attend, and will examine "what failures occurred . . . and what measures are necessary to ensure" similar mistakes aren't made again.