Instead, the phone rang in the split-level home on McKee Street last night, and that was that. He was out and so was the university president, Graham Spanier. Paterno's final power play had failed.
In a morning statement, words typed on a computer, Paterno said he was resigning at the end of the season. It was his final attempt at control. He said he wanted to honor his commitments to his players and his staff, and that he wanted to make things as easy as possible for the Board of Trustees.
This was untrue. This was not about any of that. The university's inability to protect children from an alleged sexual predator within their midst - from the president of the school to his lieutenants in the administration; from the janitors who mopped the floors to the iconic football coach who built the empire - has brought us to this day. Paterno's legacy is ruined.
And he was playing for the history books, playing for time. That is what this was about, and that is why it was so important that the Board of Trustees not allow it to happen.
There is nothing they can do about the past. But if they are to own the future - a future in which this inexplicable, misguided protection of an almighty football kingdom can never again be allowed to develop - this is exactly what Penn State needed to do.
"I think I'll leave it for all of you to decide what the message is," said board vice chairman John P. Surma, who presided over an emotional, chaotic news conference last night with impressive restraint.
"The current situation we are in - which, by all accounts, has its roots in a certain organization of the university - the situation we are in today is not in the university's best interests."
Why fire him now?
"In our view, we thought a change now was necessary to enable, to allow, this process to continue," Surma said. "We thought it was going to be damaging the university, and therefore we took the action that we did."
If Paterno had been allowed to stay - for one game or until the Nittany Lions' bowl game, maybe into January - it would have been a circus. Worse than that, it would have enabled Paterno the opportunity potentially to shape both the board's investigation into what happened from the inside, as well as a chance to spin the future.
And make no mistake: This is about his image now, nothing else.
Yesterday morning, Paterno's son Scott, on Twitter, said that he would no longer be speaking on the matter and directed reporters to contact a public-relations firm from outside of Washington, D.C., whose website says, "We are a strategic partner for leading organizations facing their most difficult and important reputation challenges."
The statement issued by Paterno, whoever wrote it, was a political masterpiece: sorrow for Sandusky's alleged victims (although Paterno left out the "alleged" part); acknowledgement that, "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more," and then the final, naked power play: saying he wanted to resign at the end of the season in order to make things as easy as possible for a Board of Trustees that "should not spend a single minute discussing my status."
It was a dare. It was an unspoken question. Who has the guts to fire Joe Paterno? After all of this time, who?
It reminds you of a forgotten moment in history. The year was 1940. Then in high school, Paterno might have read about this in a newspaper the day after it happened. The early months of World War II were going badly for England and there was a bitter debate in the House of Commons. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, whose strategy of appeasing Adolf Hitler had so completely failed, was under attack from all parties, including his own.
During the debate, Leo Amery, a member of Chamberlain's own party, rose in denunciation. It was the decisive moment that resulted in Chamberlain losing office. Amery concluded his devastating attack by quoting Cromwell:
"You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go."
All of these decades later, that is where Penn State was with Joe Paterno last night. But who would have the guts to tell him what he needed to be told? That is: In the name of God, go.
As it turned out, the Penn State Board of Trustees did.
They did it by telephone, it will forever be remembered.
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