Police in riot gear responded when hundreds of Penn State students flooded the streets in support of the university’s ousted gridiron coach Joe Paterno.
Crowds tipped over a television news van and kicked out its windows and 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!”
Paterno, the iconic coach who has guided Penn State’s Nittany Lions for more than 40 years, was abruptly sacked and university president Graham Spanier also dismissed as controversy raged over the administration’s response to sex abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Sandusky was charged at the weekend with sexually assaulting eight boys over a period of 15 years, some of the alleged attacks coming at Penn State facilities.
Two other Penn State administrators had already stepped down and face charges of perjury in the investigation.
Paterno was not targeted in the investigation. But he has been criticized for failing to do more when suspicions of Sandusky were brought to his attention.
And his fame as the most successful coach in major-college history has made him the focal point of the nationwide furor over the case.
John Surma, vice chairman of the university’s board of trustees, said it was “in the best interest of the university that a change of leadership to deal with the difficult issues we are facing” take place.
Paterno and Spanier were informed by telephone of the unanimous decisions to remove them.
“We were unable to find a way to do that in person without causing further distraction,” Surma said, but some of the demonstrators objected to what they saw as cavalier treatment of the beloved coach they know as “Joe Pa”.
Earlier in the day, Paterno had issued a statement saying he would retire at the end of the season. He held an emotional meeting with his players to tell them, but in the end his departure was even sooner.
“It’s criminal the way he went out,” senior offensive tackle Chima Okoli said, “because he’s done so much for this university and he’s had such a legacy. This isn’t a fitting end for all the work he’s done, not only for Penn State but for the world.”
Students also gathered Wednesday night at Paterno’s home, where he emerged from the house and urged them to “get a good night’s sleep and study.”
“Right now, I’m not the football coach,” Paterno said. “And I’ve got to get used to that.”
Someone placed a bouquet of flowers on the front porch and Paterno’s wife, Sue, retrieved them.
“Thank you, you are all so sweet,” she said. “We love you all.”