Penn State sacks coach Joe Paterno

Penn State sacks coach Joe Paterno

STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania - Agence France-Presse
Penn State sacks coach Joe Paterno

Penn State students flip a car during a riot after it was announced that Joe Paterno would no longer be the head coach of Pennsylvania State University’s football team.

Iconic U.S. college football coach Joe Paterno has been sacked amid a swirling child sex scandal, sparking violent protests by students at Pennsylvania State University.

The trustees abruptly fired Paterno and university president Graham Spanier late Wednesday as criticism raged over how school officials handled allegations of child sex abuse against a longtime assistant coach.

Police in riot gear responded when hundreds of Penn State students flooded the streets in support of Paterno, tipping over a television news van and kicking out its windows. At least one photographer was hit by a rock as a campus known as Happy Valley descended into chaos.

Police used pepper spray to control the crowd, but students made their feelings known with chants of “We Want Joe! We Want Joe!”

The 84-year-old coach is in his 46th season at the helm of the Nittany Lions, a team he has guided to two national titles while amassing the most wins of any major-college coach in history.

It was a sudden plunge from greatness for Paterno, who just hours earlier had announced his plans to retire at the end of the college football season.

But the board of trustees decided Paterno and Spanier would have to go immediately as the outcry exploded in the wake of the arrest of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

Sandusky, charged with sexually assaulting eight boys over a span of 15 years -- some of them at Penn State facilities -- has said through his lawyer that he is innocent.

Senior vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley stepped down over the weekend and have been charged with failing to notify authorities of suspected abuse and with perjury.

They too have denied wrongdoing.

The firings “were made after careful deliberations and in the best interests of the university as a whole,” said John Surma, vice chair of the board of trustees.

“The past several days have been absolutely terrible for the entire Penn State community,” Surma said. “But the outrage that we feel is nothing compared to the physical and psychological suffering that allegedly took place.”