Thursday, February 7

Good-bye John Surma - Good luck surviving until June

The Man Who Wanted Joe Paterno Fired Got His Wish, But When Asked Why The Board Did It, He Struggled To Provide A Reason.  It was VIC-tory for the Surmas....That's All He Knew.

Ray Blehar

Transcript of CNN Press Conference After the Firing of Joe Paterno (my emphasis added).

STATE COLLEGE, PA:  November 9, 2011:  The university's Board of Trustees just announced the president of the university is stepping down. There's a press conference going on right now. 

Let's go live to that press conference. 



Thank you, Steve  Everyone hear me?

I'm going to make some comments and then take your questions.  The last several days have been absolutely terrible for the entire Penn State community.  But the outrage that we feel is nothing compared to the physical and psychological suffering (garbled).

My comment:  What lawyer would ever allow a statement like this when Sandusky had yet to be convicted of any of the allegations?

The Penn State Board of Trustees tonight decided that it was in the best interest of the university to have a change in leadership to deal with the difficult issues we are facing the BOT and Graham Spanier have decided that Dr Spanier is no longer president of the University.  In addition, Joe Paterno is no longer the head football coach, effective immediately.

These decisions were made after careful deliberations and the best interests of the University as a whole.

Penn State has always strived for honesty, integrity, and the highest moral standards in all our activities.  We promise you we are committed to restoring the public trust in our University.

Before we take your questions, let me remind you that we do not yet know all the facts.  Steve and I will be available to answer as many questions as we can.

QUESTION:  Who will coach the team?

SURMA:  With respect to coaching matters, I can tell you that Acting President Rod Erickson and Acting Athletic Director Mark Sherburne have appointed Tom Bradley as the interim head coach.

QUESTION:  What about Mike Mcqueary's status?

SURMA:  There's really nothing we can say about that. At that point, there's been no change in his status. 

My comment: How could there be thoughtful consideration without making a decision on the person who was the eyewitness in the case and later would receive death threats if he coached on the sidelines.


QUESTION: Sir, what was the driving reason of removing coach Paterno? 

SURMA: In consideration of all the facts and the difficulties that we are encountering during this time, it was the trustees' view that it was in the best interest, long-term interests of our university to make that change.

QUESTION: When did you tell him? 


QUESTION: When did you tell Joe Paterno?

SURMA: I can only answer one at a time. 


SURMA: The board deliberative process is, as it implies, a process that requires some time. There was information that we sought, although we don't know anything more about the actual details than the grand jury report and whatever you all write. 

We were working through the not entirely consistent processes of wanting to act swiftly and decisively, but also to be thorough and fair. And that resulted in these actions tonight. 

QUESTION: Sir, given the popularity of coach Paterno on this campus, how difficult a decision was this for you and your colleagues to make? 

SURMA: Well, these decisions are never easy in any walk of life. And this one for many reasons, including those that you described, was difficult, but again, in the unanimous view of the trustees, was necessary in the long-term interests of the university and the difficult problems we find... 


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Can you confirm or deny those?

SURMA: I have no basis to comment on that report, which I guess we found imaginative, but not anything that is anything we can comment on.


SURMA: I can only go one at a time. 


SURMA: As I mentioned, Rod Erickson, our distinguished provost, has agreed to act as interim president of the university effective immediately. 

QUESTION: In the board's mind, should coach Paterno have alerted to the police when he first learned of the sexual abuse allegations in 2002?

SURMA: I don't know that I can characterize the board's view on specific determinations like that. Our view is a more -- larger view of what was necessary to move the university in the right direction.

The specific aspects of these terrible activities that occurred and terrible damage that was done really remain to be established by whatever law enforcement investigations are yet under way, as well as the investigation by our own Board of Trustees' special committee that we announced recently and we will provided more details on, on Friday.

SURMA: It's really premature for us to comment on, because we don't know what the actual facts and circumstances were. As I said, we have read the grand jury report, as I'm sure you all have. And beyond that, there's very little information that's available beyond that and we have to await the completion of multiple investigations. 

QUESTION: When did you tell Paterno? 


QUESTION: At what point did you notify Mr. Paterno of this decision? 

SURMA: One at a time.


QUESTION: At what point did you notify Mr. Paterno? 

SURMA: I think that's more or less the same question. We made that notification earlier this evening. 


SURMA: That's a (AUDIO GAP) We made the notification and that's really all we can say and all we should say. 

QUESTION: Did you see him in person or over the phone? 

SURMA: I would rather not characterize that either. We made a notification that we thought was appropriate and necessary. 

QUESTION: You have let a man go that has been here for 46 years and you won't tell us whether you told him over the phone or in person?

SURMA: We did have a phone conversation. We were unable to find a way to get to do that in person without causing, we thought, greater distraction, and that was a conclusion that we made. 

QUESTION: You didn't think you owed him the courtesy to go to his house or talk to him in person? 

SURMA: There's really nothing we can comment on, on that. We did what we thought was best.

QUESTION: What's your reasoning for dismissing coach Paterno now and leaving Tim Curley in administrative leave? 

SURMA: There's a number of matters that the board has to address during the course of the week. I'm not saying those were them, but there's a matters that over time will get resolved and dealt with

QUESTION: Will Joe's son Jay still be on staff?

SURMA: There's no change there at the moment. What happens in the long-term is a different question. 

QUESTION: What about Mike McQueary? 

SURMA: As I said, we're not aware of any change in his status. And there's really no more comment we could make on that personnel matter. 

My comment: The Board waited until McQueary received death threats to make a decision.  I guess that what Surma means by "thoughtful and deliberate."



SURMA: Well, I don't really want to get into what individuals should think or not think. 

I would hope that our students and we would hope that everyone who cares about Penn State, our 95,000 students, our hundreds of thousands of alumni, the thousands of degrees which get awarded each year, our outreach for agriculture in every county of the commonwealth, I would hope that everyone would agree that what we are doing is what we believe is in our best judgment is in the best long- term interests of the university, which is much larger than athletic programs. 

QUESTION: What do you say to the people who think you're making him the fall guy for this?

SURMA: Well, I think people can believe what they wish, but I think when the facts come out in a longer term, and we don't have them all here in front of us, and no doubt there will be additional facts which shed light on things. I have no idea what they are tonight.


QUESTION: When you said there's going to be a full investigation, at the same time, what would you say to those who argue that this is a rush to judgment? There has not been a full investigation, so how could you reach this conclusion at this time?

SURMA: As I said, these are judgments and decisions and balances that boards have to make with thoughtful deliberation. In our view, things had reached a point where a change was necessary and we thought in the best long-term interest of the university. 

QUESTION: Is the board aware that (OFF-MIKE) under a Department of Education investigation? And what's the larger message about how Penn State responds to allegations of sexual abuse on campus? 

SURMA: I am just briefly aware of the matter that you just described and have no information on it, no real knowledge of it. 

If there is another investigation by a federal authority, of course, we will -- the university will cooperate in every means possible. And beyond that, I really have no knowledge of it. And I think as we indicated in our statement yesterday, we intend to be as responsible as we can and make whatever changes are necessary to ensure that we have the highest standards of conduct. 

QUESTION: Has coach Paterno been told he can go to the game on Saturday or to stay away? 

SURMA: We did not discuss that matter. 

QUESTION: We have talked to a lot of students over the past few days. What do you want to say to those who think that the university, the Board of Trustees has handled this matter poorly?

SURMA: Well, we handled it the best way we could with the information we had and with the time that was available to us, again, wanting to be decisive, but also wanting to be thorough and appropriately deliberate. Others are welcome to their own opinion. We believe we did the best job we could. 

QUESTION: What would be the harm in letting the coach continue until the end of the season? 


QUESTION: Can you define the term best interests of the university regarding coach Paterno? 

SURMA: Not really, not for an individual. I think I will leave it all to you to describe -- to decide what the best interests -- I would say, though, that the current situation we're 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. 

QUESTION: What would be the harm in letting the coach continue until the end of the season? What's to be gained? Tell me specifically. 

SURMA: Well, I'm not sure I can tell you specifically. 

In our view, we thought a change now was necessary. To enable or to allow this process to continue, we thought it was going to be damaging the university, and therefore we took the action we did. (CROSSTALK)

SURMA: One at a time. 

QUESTION: Beyond personnel changes, are their cultural changes that need to happen at the university and what is the board going to do about (OFF-MIKE) 

SURMA: I don't know that I could -- we don't know that we could put out hands on cultural changes, per se. I think our culture on the whole at Penn State is exemplary and very good.

In this instance, obviously it was not. I think we have a good culture. To the extent we need to improve it in certain areas, we will put our full energy into doing that. And that should be, I hope, the result of the investigation that would be conducted. 

QUESTION: But does the board believe there was any wrong done here, and if so...

SURMA: The board doesn't know that and no one else does either. This is very early in the process. The facts are not established. The board doesn't really know that any more than anyone else does. And we will of course respect the law enforcement process that is still under way. 

QUESTION: But you know the processes that were taken. You know the steps that the people involved took, whom they told. Do you think that was enough? Do you think more -- the authorities should have been alerted? 

SURMA: I don't know that we know all of the steps that were taken. I don't think we know all of the activities that took place. I'm sure that we don't know that. 


QUESTION: You know who coach Paterno told. You know who Curley told. 

SURMA: There is an investigation that will be undertaken by our committee and our special committee, with all the investigative resources they need. There are law enforcement activities still under way. So we are certainly not rushing to a judgment that suggests that we know all the facts. We don't.

QUESTION: So you don't rush to judgment when it comes to facts, but you rush to judgment when it comes to dismissing coach Paterno? 

SURMA: Is that a question or a statement? 

QUESTION: I'm asking you. Did you rush to judgment by dismissing coach Paterno? 

SURMA: No. I think we had enough information to make the decision we did. 

QUESTION: Was there more information than the public knows about coach Paterno's involvement in this case to justify the board's actions? 

SURMA: Not necessarily, no. 


SURMA: This was a collective judgment that we weighed all the factors and what we thought we needed to do to move the university in the right direction. There's really nothing more that I can say about that, so...


QUESTION: When was coach Bradley informed that he would be the new coach?

SURMA: Coach Bradley was informed by our acting athletic director and the provost.

QUESTION: By phone?

SURMA: I don't know how that happened. I think it may have been.


SURMA: One at a time. 

QUESTION: John, with respect to the previous answers that you have given, why now? 

SURMA: Well, today was the day that our board felt we had sufficient deliberation and a sufficient view that was consistent among the directors and trustees that -- and we reached that judgment today. 

I can't say why it's today vs. tomorrow vs yesterday. It's the way the board deliberation process works. 


QUESTION: Are you guys concerned about the backlash that you're going to get from the university and from the students?

SURMA: We hope that in the long run and maybe hopefully also in the short run, that our students will agree that what the trustees have undertaken is in their interests, as well as all the other students and alumni and children that are in Hershey and everything else that depend on this university to move in the right direction. And it hasn't been in the last week. 


SURMA: I'm sorry. One at a time. (CROSSTALK) 

QUESTION: ... severance package?

SURMA: The president serves pursuant to a contract that was entered and it has a variety of contractual provisions that deal with certain circumstances. This is probably one of those. And it will be adhered to, whatever that may be. And I think there is probably some financial settlement in that case. 

QUESTION: Was the board caught off guard by Paterno's retirement announcement, and was that part of the decision, sir? 


SURMA: I'm sorry. A better answer? 


QUESTION: Are you concerned about the students, about their reaction to this matter at all? 

SURMA: Of course. The students are important to us, but I think this is something that our job was to make this determination. And we did the best we could. And, certainly, people that may have a different view, they're welcome to it. That's the American way and that's the Penn State way. But I think in the long term, we have done the right thing. 


SURMA: I'm sorry. 

QUESTION: Did coach Paterno know (OFF-MIKE) 

SURMA: No idea.


QUESTION: Sir, are you aware about the number of students that were marching back and forth on campus when they thought there was a possibility of this happening? And, therefore, what are you concerned about happening tonight? 

SURMA: I think we have to do what we think was the right thing to do in the circumstances. There may be actions and reactions that flow from that. We can't make our decisions based on what may happen. We have to do what we think is right. I'm confident that the university and our students will behave in a proper manner.

QUESTION: Have you made any contingency plans for (OFF-MIKE) 

SURMA: Not that I'm aware of, although our administration is very adept at handling these sorts of affairs. And I'm sure they're prepared for whatever eventualities there may be.


QUESTION: Can you give us an idea of the vote? Was it unanimous? 

SURMA: Unanimous. 

QUESTION: John, to what extent was the board caught off guard by coach Paterno's retirement announcement, and did that influence at all the step you took tonight?

SURMA: I don't know what off guard means. It was a piece of information that arose at the point. It didn't really have, I don't think, any effect on what we did tonight. So there's really not much I can say about that. 

QUESTION: Was this in the works yesterday, as "The New York Times" reported? Was there a plan being formulated yesterday? 

SURMA: Well, we had been discussing the matters at issue and our response to them on a very regular basis en banc, on the phone, in person, since this occurred. 


SURMA: So -- well, I think the entire sweep of activities has been under discussion. And, certainly, that was among those. And tonight is where we ended up. 



SURMA: I think I already answered that once, but... 

QUESTION: No, you didn't. 

SURMA: I thought I did. If I didn't, I apologize.

There are a number things that we have to attend to that sort of flow from all the things that have happened. And we will deal with things point by point.

QUESTION: Such as?

QUESTION: What should Joe Paterno have done originally...


SURMA: Oh, I'm not -- I have no idea how to answer that question and don't intend to. 

QUESTION: The Department of Education has launched an investigation into this investigation because of their failure to comply with federal laws that (OFF-MIKE) the reporting of abuse. Did that factor into your decision at all? 

SURMA: No. I think -- no, to be honest, that report came in during our discussions. And I have not even read it. All I saw was a brief headline. I'm sure other of the administration are focused on it. As I said, any investigation, of course we comply with fully. 


QUESTION: What was coach Paterno's reaction? 

SURMA: I'm sorry. 

QUESTION: What was coach Paterno's reaction? 

SURMA: I don't want to characterize that. That's not really fair for me to do. I think it's really up to him for speak for himself. I'd rather not characterize that.


QUESTION: Who made the call?


QUESTION: ... staff remain intact for this next -- rest of the games? 

SURMA: I don't know any reason not, but I don't really know how to comment on that. That's a matter that we're going to leave to the administration, the acting president, the acting athletic director. So if there's anything to say about that, you'll hear it from them. The chairman and Mr. Berman (ph).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Surma): No, I can't characterize individual behavior. That would be unfair for me and suggests that we know more than we did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you justify the firing of these two people? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Surma): We thought that, because of the difficulties that have engulfed our university, and they are grave, as is documented, that it was necessary for us to make a change in the leadership, to set a course for a new direction. And I'm not about to try to attach that to specific reasons, issues. That's the board's collective judgment. And that's what we did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe there should be a new board. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Surma): Considering I'm here, probably not. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you considered changing the board? Have you considered changing the board? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Surma): There is a process for trusteeship. You can read about it on the trustee Web site. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are asking you for justification for tonight firing Coach Paterno instead of letting him finish out his career with... 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Surma): I've told you all I can tell you about that. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is that all you can tell us about that? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he subject to compensation? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Surma): Is he what? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Subject to compensation? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will he be paid? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Surma): Again, there are -- there are some contractual arrangements that -- that will be respected. Those details have not been addressed, and I'm really reluctant to speak to them, because I don't have the details at hand. And as a matter of courtesy, we ought to let the parties and their representatives work those things out. But there will be some... 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you considering any other personnel decisions? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Surma): On our immediate agenda tonight, no. These were the matters that we were focused on. We're sort of answering the same questions again. So... 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Surma): I think you can all make your own determination. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want you to make them. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Surma): I'm not prepared to. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Surma): He's made a great contribution to the university. We all agree to that. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Surma): We have, I think, a number of work schedule -- work discussion times scheduled, whether we use them or not. We just don't have that all figured out yet. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the university going to pay the legal fees of Curley and Schultz. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Surma): I think we tried to consider everything we had at our disposal. We all know that.

I'm advised by my colleague that there are two more questions allowed. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you still pay the legal fees of Curley and Schultz? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Surma): I don't know the answer to that right now. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Surma): I don't know the answer to that either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there any pressure from outside, like the governor's office or anyone else... 

The Surma Vendetta

The Surma Vendetta Part 2


  1. Maybe, sometime down the road, with the benefit of hindsight, John Surma will wish he handled the entire situation better. He will now forever be known in his bio as the man who fired Joe Paterno by telephone.

  2. John Surma is a vindictive hypocrite who fired Joe Paterno because of personal hatred that had nothing to do with the good of the university. He has no honor and no integrity.

  3. If the BOT wasn't aware of the investigation, who made the decision to cease cooperation ?

  4. There are many people who know why is was Surma who fired JoePa!