Like many of his former Penn State football teammates, Rich Rosa remained close with his coach, Joe Paterno, as well as with defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, long after he graduated. Rosa spent a season on Paterno's staff as a graduate assistant and several more years helping Sandusky with his Second Mile program that worked with underprivileged and at-risk children.
With last week's arrest of Sandusky on 40 charges of sexual abuse of minors, and revelations that Paterno was made aware at least one incident but never called police, the emotions Rosa feels range from sadness for the victims to anger for the men — Paterno in particular — that he held in such high regard.
"The thought of a person who you held in such high esteem, sort of that pinnacle of integrity and honesty and doing the things the right way — that's what Joe preached, that was what members of his staff preached and when we traveled to games, we had to uphold a certain persona and we had to do things the right way. Obviously, they didn't do things the right way," Rosa said.
But Rosa, who played for the Nittany Lions from 1988 through 1991 and is now a sports agent in Hunt Valley, said he doesn't feel betrayed by Paterno, who was removed as Penn State coach late Wednesday night, hours after he had said he would retire following the season.
Yet Rosa is clearly disturbed by the fact that Paterno reported only to then-athletic director Tim Curley what former graduate assistant Mike McQueary said he witnessed — Sandusky's sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in the shower of the football facility in 2002 — and did not call police. Curley and another university official have been charged with perjury and stepped down this week. University president Graham Spanier was fired late Wednesday. No charges have been filed against Paterno.
"The thought that these allegations occurred over such a long period of time (allegedly from 1994 through 2008) and people had the opportunity to do the right thing to stop it, makes you sick," Rosa said. "There's a sense that you talked the talk, but you didn't walk it. This cocoon that has been built around the program, someone took a match and just lit it up. You can't run and hide from this stuff."
While Paterno's announcement of his impending retirement was viewed by many as a case of the 84-year old coach trying to stay one step ahead of the school's board of regents that eventually ousted him, Rosa and others were left conflicted by what they would have liked to see happen and what they thought should happen.
Eddie Johnson, who played on the 1986 championship team and was captain of the 1988 team, said of the circumstances that led to Paterno's firing: "it's disappointing and sad," adding, "we all knew it would happen one day, but under these circumstances, it makes it tough to swallow."
Had Paterno coached the Nittany Lions on Saturday against Nebraska, he would have passed Amos Alonzo Stagg for coaching in the most Division I-A games.
Johnson, a partner in the same sports management agency with Rosa, said that Paterno's achievements — his Division I-A record of 409 wins, his high graduation rate and the fact that he gave millions of dollars of his own money to help build a school library — shouldn't be clouded by the scandal that has enveloped a place long known as Happy Valley.
"I'm proud and happy about the all the good — and there's plenty of it — that he's been able to do for the university and the football program. He's touched many, many lives in so many ways," said Johnson, who also worked in the Second Mile program. "He's been a great man and a great teacher for a long, long time."
Said former Penn State basketball coach Ed DeChellis, now is his first season at Navy, "I feel badly for him that it's come down this way because he's given his life to young people and education."
DeChellis said he received a note from Paterno last week wishing him good luck in his first year in Annapolis. A Penn State graduate who considers Paterno "a good friend," DeChellis said Wednesday afternoon that it would be sad if the board of regents decided not to let Paterno finish out the season.
"You want him to have one last home game, you want him to have a successful season, you want to one last time maybe get carried out of Beaver Stadium on his players' shoulders, you want all those things for him because he's such a great man and a great ambassador," DeChellis said. "But there's the other side to it that unfortunately unfolded over the weekend that can't be dismissed."
That Paterno's departure is similar but in ways much more sinister than those of other coaching icons, including Woody Hayes at Ohio State for slugging a Clemson player during a bowl game and Indiana basketball legend Bob Knight for assaulting a student on the Bloomington campus, shows only that he is capable of a lapse of judgment, according to Johnson.
"As great as Joe is, and as great as those other coaches were and are, they're still human beings," Johnson said. "As much as we want to hold them up on a pedestal — and believe me I will hold Joe up on the highest human pedestal — we can't expect them to be 100 percent perfect. The perception is that these great men are infallible. But as great as people are, they're still people."
Rosa, the father of two daughters ages 10 and 13, said that after he read the 23-page indictment outlining the charges against Sandusky, "I was sick to my stomach, I couldn't sleep that night. The thought that adults who know how to make the decision between right and wrong didn't make the right call, that's what is so upsetting."
Rosa said that what transpired at Penn State "could wind up being one of the biggest scandals in sports history," but quickly added, "Put the football aside, this is not about football, this is about crimes against children. You can't forget about these victims, they're the ones who are going to suffer for the rest of their lives."