Home / Robert Farley / Brief Sandusky Thought

Brief Sandusky Thought


Talking about the case with Scott the other day, I started to wonder why Sandusky-as-coaching-candidate didn’t merit more consistent mention after his retirement in 1999.  An excellent defensive coordinator for a big school with a renowned head coach should excite a great deal of interest from coaches, athletic directors, and sports journalists, yet I have trouble remembering many mentions of Sandusky in the context of openings at major football programs. Journalists, especially, don’t tend to credit the “but I’m retired from coaching” claim with any consistency. To be sure I may be misremembering, and perhaps Sandusky was mentioned more often than I recall.  I have to wonder, though, whether and how some word of Sandusky’s toxicity spread from Penn State through the coaching fraternity and the sports journalist worlds.  Beyond that, I have to wonder about the precise nature of the understanding of his toxicity; did ADs and major journalists simply credit rumors that he was unreliable (or perhaps gay?) and move on? Or, following the 1998 investigation, did word of his actual potential offenses spread through these communities, perhaps propelled by JoePa and others associated with the Penn State football program?

What’s at stake here? Seems to me it’s possible that knowledge of Sandusky’s “problem” wasn’t limited to the Penn State community. Probably not any details, but people may have known enough to know not to ask. I’d be quite curious to know what ADs, head coaches, and journalists covering college football were saying in private about Sandusky post-1999 (and especially post-2001).

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  • Satan Mayo

    As a member of the Penn State community in the sense that all my life the local newspaper has covered Penn State quite a bit, I can tell you that his Second Mile charity really was popular and it was plausible to retire and devote one’s life to running it. Especially with his sort of skinny, smiley demeanor which was not your typical tough-guy football coach.

  • KLG

    Well, one of the very successful coaches that St. Joe famously dissed, as the reason Joe couldn’t retire and leave the sport to this other guy, has said outright that the Penn State staff had to know. And if they knew, the open secret was likely very widely known. With all due deference to Satan Mayo, that Jerry Sandusky, best defensive coach in college football, never was considered for a coaching job anywhere else after “retiring” because he was essentially found out, passes neither the laugh test nor the smell test.

    • Furious Jorge

      I was surprised that St. Bobby actually went as far as he did when publicly discussing the whole Penn State thing. He’s usually very careful with his words.

  • Kurzleg

    This makes sense to me, Rob. Barry Alvarez meets the “An excellent defensive coordinator for a big school” criteria. His turnaround of WI happened about 5 years prior to Sandusky becoming available. You’d think that precedent would carry some weight.

    I’ll bet that there was some interest in Sandusky but that it got shot down at the beginning stages of the candidate searches. Initial inquiries with PSU administration probably got met with generic but forceful “friendly advice that will save you a big headache down the road.”

    • Malaclypse

      Initial inquiries with PSU administration probably got met with generic but forceful “friendly advice that will save you a big headache down the road.”

      Be interesting if some lawyer crafted some memo specifying what exactly would be said in case of enquiries of this type. I can’t imagine that memo not being written, actually.

      • mark f

        “While it was not an easy decision to give up football, Coach Sandusky has decided to focus his attention on his charity for at-risk boys. Coincidentally, so have the police and several plaintiffs’ attorneys.”

      • Barry

        “I can’t imagine that memo not being written, actually.”

        If I were the lawyer involved, I would well imagine *not* writing anything down.

        This is a classic wink-wink/nudge-nudge situation.

        • Anderson

          Right, how the hell are you going to word that letter to the client?

          Not that dumber things haven’t been done.

  • rea

    Temple tried to hire him in the late 80’s. In the 90’s, he was a candidate at Maryland and Virginia . . .

    • Paul Campos

      He was one of the most mentioned names for the Michigan job after Gary Moeller got fired in the spring of 1995.

      There were vague but lurid rumors about Sandusky on the college football boards ten years ago. Nobody ever said anything concrete but obviously a lot people around the PSU program had heard something.

      • Any of these USENET-type boards that might be archived?

    • Bill Murray

      Virginia was in 2000, Maryland was 1991 and 1996

  • Paul Gottlieb

    I doubt that anyone outside the inner circle at Penn State was every informed about exactly what was wrong with Jerry Sandusky. In fact, they seemed pretty determined to keep that a secret. But it’s not hard, with the help of a quick shake of the head and a few enigmatic sentences, to totally poison the water. I think it must have become pretty well known throughout the football community that there was something seriously wrong with Jerry Sandusky. The details–was he a wife-beater, a raging alcoholic, an embezzler?–didn’t really matter. It was enough to know that he was going to be trouble.

    • Stan Gable

      That seems right to me – no reason to give even a hint of a detail, the fact that his official affiliation with PSU had ended and a “you don’t want to go there” would have been sufficient.

      I’d assume that there’s a bunch of guys like that floating around major programs – drugs/alcohol/violence cases that everyone would prefer not to talk about and certainly would rather not take ownership of someone else’s skeletons.

    • snoey

      Isn’t this a case where the record speaks for itself, like seeing a 19 year military career. You don’t know why it came off the rails, but you’ll let somebody else find out.

    • c u n d gulag

      Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

      Why open up the pedophile can-of-worms, when you can just imply that if he’s hired, there may be other concerns? Big ones!

      Getting a Head Football Coach at a major college or university is a huge investment in one person.
      Why hire someone whose former school gives you a heads-up, and pass-up on someone with impeccable credentials?

    • TT

      Excellent point. I find it very easy to believe that only a select few at Penn State knew the truth about Sandusky by 1998. Some schools might not have cared if Sandusky had been an alcoholic, or had scammed money from Penn State, his charity, or a local bank, or had even beaten his wife. (A history of battering women has unfortunately never stopped certain schools or professional teams from taking a coach or player.) But a man who rapes young boys would have been a far, far different issue. It’s hard to believe the truth about Sandusky would have stayed a secret for very long if word had gotten out into the wider coaching fraternity.

      And while the amorphous, all-purpose “character issues” are usually, in the context of the NFL draft, a euphemism for “black kid who gets (or might have once gotten) into trouble”, I suspect that in the coaching fraternity “character issues” are invoked by one school’s staff in order to obliquely tell another’s that they will have major problems if they hire this or that guy.

    • Murc

      I doubt that anyone outside the inner circle at Penn State was every informed about exactly what was wrong with Jerry Sandusky.

      Almost certainly deliberately so, although probably not consciously so.

      Every so often, Joe Paterno lets something slip about Sandusky in a meeting that makes you go “Wait… what? What the hell does THAT imply?”. But the lizard part of your brain tells the rest of it “You do not want to know more. Do you WANT to get fired? Or end up testifying someday? Maybe you misinterpreted this and maybe you didn’t, but you will be much happier, and be able to think of yourself as a good person, if you simply don’t pay attention.”

      But because there’s some residual guilt floating around, when your buddy at another program or in the NFL says “Oh, hey, we were thinking about wooing Sandusky” you just sort of look at him and say “Oh? Well, your decision, of course. But he has a lot of intangibles that make him… hard to deal with.” And your tone is light, matter-of-fact, but something in your eyes makes them recoil.

      That’s how I imagine it going down.

  • Sherm

    I never quite knew what to make of this story ( http://www.altoonamirror.com/page/content.detail/id/555789/Offering-Sandusky-to-PSU-Altoona—.html ), but I have always assumed that Penn State had leaked within the college football community that he would not a good hire. Other schools must have known that his “retirement” was a forced one, and that the true reasons for his “retirement” were enough to eliminate him from serious consideration as a head coaching candidate.

    • tucker

      If the church can shift pedophiles, why can’t a college? Just asking.

      • John (not McCain)

        The church is larger and has a lot more experience with coverups.

      • JBJ

        “Shifting pedophiles” is exactly what that looks like to me. Maybe Paterno and others at PSU thought better of it, or maybe Sandusky didn’t jump at the opportunity.

        Of course, there are lots of rational reasons why a college might decide not to start a new football program from scratch.

        • Barry

          ““Shifting pedophiles” is exactly what that looks like to me. Maybe Paterno and others at PSU thought better of it, or maybe Sandusky didn’t jump at the opportunity.”

          They likely realized that if Sandusky went somewhere else, then his actions would come to light far sooner. At PSU and the vicinity, he could be watched and covered for.

          • Yeah, I think the top priority was making sure no one PSU couldn’t control found out the facts about Sandusky.

          • Sherm

            But the question is why. What was the depth of the cover-up at this time that they needed to do this?

  • wengler

    They probably insinuated that he raped kids. That’ll shut up pursuers really quick. It’s not like someone is going to go ‘Then let’s call the police!’ when it is insinuated he rapes kids. They are just going to think ‘holy shit’ and move on to some other coaching candidate.

  • JBJ

    I hear the term “coaching fraternity” quite a bit. Whoever coined it wasn’t being pejorative, but it’s a fraternal-social profession. Who you know and who will vouch for you is extremely important. I don’t think many juicy details were necessary to put a stink on Sandusky. His “early retirement” was distinctly odd (only a Bill Cowher or an Urban Meyer gets to do that, after winning a title as a head coach), plus any less-than-glowing recommendation from Paterno would have spoken loudly.

    I also doubt that Sandusky was aggressively putting himself forward for coaching jobs that would take him away from his beloved charity. I think he thoroughly deluded himself that he was doing a great, indispensable service for those needy boys. Meanwhile, he had a proven system for gaining access to victims. If Paterno was less than effusive and Sandusky himself was ambivalent, the shine would’ve gone off of his prospects as a job candidate pretty quickly.

  • S-Curve

    There’s this from UVa sports site The Sabre: http://www.thesabre.com/message_board/football/2012/June/12/2690127.php

    It suggests that the only reason Sandusky didn’t get the job is that he wouldn’t give up his role in Second Mile. Which would have been a no-go for most top-tier schools, if he did that for all of them. And we know now why he wouldn’t have wanted to give up the charity …

  • JBJ

    The more I think about it (and I maybe should have just agreed with Paul Gottlieb above and left it at that), all this falls under Paul C’s “Don’t Make Waves” thesis. The incentive not to make waves was deeply ingrained in the supposedly competitive world of coaching, and even extended to the sports media.

    Back when the Valerie Plame scandal was current, the thought that infuriated me the most was all the DC insiders who knew quite well what was going on, that Cheney’s office was trying to strike back at Joe Wilson by ruining his wife. Hundreds of people, lots of them journalists, must have known, but almost none of them would go public with the knowledge.

  • He took children with him to road games. This stuff didn’t happen in a 1940’s Bing Crosby movie– this was an adult in the 1990s who had children in his hotel room. And everyone knew it. It had to have looked at least damned sketchy, and it probably looked like exactly what it was.

  • Jim Lynch

    There’s no other profession in America that inspires such childish adulation as big time sports. Assuming you’re correct (and I think you probably are), the people who turned a blind eye on Sanduskey are the same breed of cat (twice removed) that extended Schilling his loan in Rhode Island. They are jock sniffers.

  • Dave G

    I was a student volunteer for the football program during Maryland’s 1996 coaching search.

    Sandusky was the #1 target for a good stretch, and then suddenly no one was talking about him. I never knew why. I just assumed he said no because we were Maryland and he was just going to wait fcr the old man to die.

    It’s possible people at Penn State warned Maryland that it would be a bad idea to hire him because they knew, but it’s just idle speculation on my part. I don’t think we’ll ever really know.

  • El Caballo de Sangre

    I remember there being some curiosity back then about why a 55-year-old, top-of-his-profession coordinator at one of the nation’s top college football programs, would retire out of nowhere & not seriously entertain other offers. When we talk about “interest” in hiring him from UVa, That School Up North, etc., well, did he ever interview anywhere? There’s no need to gussy up what Spanier/Schultz/Curley/Paterno did with some kind of secret CFB coaches’ grapevine that winks & touches its nose about creepy coaches. I think it’s much more plausible that outsiders that asked found no interest at all from Sandusky. If they asked anybody from PSU why, they probably just said “That guy just really loves his charity”, & that was all there was to it.

  • Pugnacious

    Adolph Hitler on his love of college football and his defense of JoePa.

    Also check out his response to A&M joining the SEC, ending the UT/A&M Thanksgiving rivalry.


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