Joe Paterno had planned to retire at the end of the 2011 season, well before being forced out in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal. According to the New York Times, Paterno and Graham Spanier agreed to a retirement package in January 2011.
Mr. Paterno was to be paid $3 million at the end of the 2011 season if he agreed it would be his last. Interest-free loans totaling $350,000 that the university had made to Mr. Paterno over the years would be forgiven as part of the retirement package. He would also have the use of the university’s private plane and a luxury box at Beaver Stadium for him and his family to use over the next 25 years.
The New York Times paints an ominous picture. The timing of the retirement package coincided with the Sandusky grand jury testimony, it was “abnormal” considering his present contract was not set to run out until 2012 and the Penn State BOT was “kept in the dark” about the retirement package until it became an issue in November. The Times attribultes the final settlement to the “significant power that Mr. Paterno exerted on the state institution, its officials, its alumni and its purse strings.”
Paterno and Spanier knowingly let a child rapist run amok for a decade to protect his football program. Consequently, we cannot put anything devious, deceitful or downright inhumane past them. The timing looks awful, though it is hard to prove sinister motivations definitively. This retirement package and selling his house to his wife last July could suggest someone bracing for potential liability. They could also suggest a frail, 84-year-old man with means preparing for his death.
Early 2011 was the rational time for Paterno to negotiate such a retirement deal. He would break Eddie Robinson’s record and leave on his own terms. The only surprising part was that so profoundly stubborn a man would be reasonable enough to plan it out a year in advance.
Three million dollars is a lot of money to the average person, though hardly extortionate by college football standards. Penn State football brings in $50 million in profit per season. They were buying out the final year of Paterno’s seven-figure contract. Three million is half of Mack Brown’s yearly salary at Texas. This is less expensive than many AQ conference buyouts. Notre Dame has already paid Charlie Weis $8.7 million of what may end up being a $19 million buyout. Paterno’s additional perks, such as the private plane and the luxury box, were hardly abnormal. This was a generous package, but few in January 2011 would have begrudged him that.
Spanier did not inform the Penn State BOT of Paterno’s retirement terms. There clearly were oversight issues, though the terms of the agreement indicated Paterno’s de facto retirement at the end of the 2011 season. In an environment where secrecy and absolute control was SOP, it would be logical to keep the provisions on a need to know basis to keep Paterno’s retirement plans from going public.
The timing makes it easy to read this as part of a grand conspiracy. Paterno and Spanier, by their incredibly callous acts, have left us little option but to assume the absolute worst until proven otherwise. However, the timing and the terms here can fit multiple narratives. If Paterno saw writing on the wall in January 2011, it could simply have been his own mortality. The only thing we know for sure is his offer to save Penn State trouble by retiring at the end of the season was hardly magnanimous, since he was going to do so anyway and get paid well for it.
[Photo via Getty]