Coach K Discusses Penn State’s Mishandling of Joe Paterno on ‘Piers Morgan Tonight’Posted by EJacoby on June 18th, 2012
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is unquestionably one of the great leaders in sports history, perhaps only matched in modern college sports by former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. ‘Coach K’ and ‘Joe Pa’ taped an ESPN special together last June about ethics and integrity, entitled “Difference Makers: Life Lessons with Paterno and Krzyzewski,” ironically just a few months before the Penn State child molestation scandal broke and resulted in the football coach’s abrupt firing. Paterno then passed away from cancer in January, a mere two months after his dismissal. Krzyzewski appeared Friday night on Piers Morgan’s CNN talk show and discussed in one segment how he felt about the handling of Paterno by his employer. The Duke coach recognized that it was a difficult situation all around, but also said that he was very displeased with how Penn State responded. He thinks that the university should have shown more respect to its head coach of 45 years by discussing a mutual solution rather than throwing him out as the scapegoat. “I thought it was a real mistake by Penn State’s leadership,” he said, intimating that he wished Paterno had gone out on different terms, perhaps stepping down himself. Unlike everyone else in the media who gave an opinion on this issue, Coach K is acutely qualified as one of Paterno’s coaching contemporaries and as someone with just as much power at his university, so his comments speak loudly about how the Penn State crisis was handled.
Krzyzewski and Paterno only became close during the last year of Paterno’s life, so his defense of the former Penn State coach isn’t necessarily as simple as one man sticking up for a friend. Coach K has clearly thought long and hard about how he would have handled the situation had an (alleged) criminal emerged on his staff. He discussed the proper solution should something like this have occurred at Duke:
“You should deal with it like any team should deal with it. In other words, I’m on the Duke team. If that happened in my area, then I would look to work with my athletic director and my president to have a solution. And if that solution meant that I would step down, I would do it in a way that would be part of the solution, not like you’re just thrown out.”
Coming from a legendary college coach, Coach K’s commentary holds plenty of weight. He doesn’t directly discuss whether Paterno should have done things differently or if his firing was justified, but he makes it clear that he believes that someone with 61 years of service at a university deserved to play a bigger role in how he left his position. He implies that the ethical thing in this situation was for the coach to lose his job, but not in the way that Penn State carried it out. In dealing with the situation as a ‘team,’ Krzyzewski wishes the university administration would have assumed just as much blame and allowed the legendary head coach to retain some of his deserving honor. “In leadership, you may be asked to step down, and that’s part of being a leader,” he said. While Paterno offered to step down at the end of last season, the school chose to fire him in the middle of the year instead.
Paterno’s failure to notify proper authorities when he learned that an assistant coach may have had inappropriate conduct with a minor was grounds for his termination, especially in retrospect knowing that so much more abuse may have taken place in the following years that could have been prevented. But according to Krzyzewski, one mistake in 61 years doesn’t mean that six decades of service “goes out the window right at the end.” It’s not like Paterno himself had committed the heinous crimes, but rather he failed to make the proper choice in dealing with the alleged perpetrator. Coach K believes that there was a way for Paterno to leave his post in a much more suitable manner, just another meaningful thought to add to the Duke coach’s long list over the years.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him on Twitter @evanJacoby.