Former Penn State running back Franco Harris -- who went on to play for the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers -- defended fired head coach Joe Paterno and embattled wide-receivers coach Mike McQueary on Friday for their roles in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Harris said he planned to visit Paterno on Saturday to show his support, while he also criticized Penn State's board of trustees for its decision to fire the 46-year head coach.
I feel that the board made a bad decision in letting Joe Paterno go, Harris told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. I'm very disappointed in their decision. I thought they showed no courage, not to back someone who really needed it at the time. They were saying the football program under Joe was at fault.
They really wouldn't give a reason. They're linking the football program to the scandal and, possibly, the cover-up. That's very disturbing to me.
The board of trustees fired Paterno on Wednesday, days after news of the Sandusky scandal broke.
Sandusky was indicted Nov. 4 on 40 counts of sexual abuse. He allegedly had inappropriate contact with eight young boys over a 15-year period, according to a grand-jury report.
Paterno's role in the scandal began in 2002, when McQueary told him he saw Sandusky abusing a 10-year-old boy in the showers of the Penn State locker room. Paterno told athletic director Tim Curley about it. Curley and a university vice president, Gary Schultz, met with McQueary, but the matter was never reported to police.
Both Curley and Schultz were charged last week with perjury and failure to report the allegations of the sexual abuse of a minor.
I think there should be no connection to the football program, only in the case that it happened at the football building with an ex-coach, Harris said. I'm still trying to find out who gave him access to the building, who signed that contract.
As NESN pointed out in its own report of Harris' statements, that quote makes it seem as if Harris has not read the grand-jury report. Sandusky had access to university facilities per his retirement agreement.
As a retired coach, Sandusky had unlimited access to the football facilities, including the locker room, the grand-jury report read.
Harris also took issue with Paterno's general role in the scandal. A Pennsylvania state police commissioner said this week that Paterno fulfilled all legal obligations in the matter, but questioned whether Paterno had more of a moral obligation to go to the police himself.
When I heard that, it blew my mind, Harris said. Why would they bring the moral into the legal? Now, everyone gets to interpret in their own way. That's what really bothers me: Joe did what was right for him to do. He forwarded the information to his superiors. That's the legal procedure at Penn State.
If I had to choose today between the moral integrity and character of Joe Paterno and the politicians and commentators criticizing him, I would pick Joe Paterno, hands down, no contest every time.
Meanwhile, Harris also defended McQueary in his comments. According to a report in The Patriot-News on Saturday, McQueary will not return as the receivers coach.
McQueary had been placed on administrative leave by the university on Friday.
People make fun of the fact that Mike went to his father, like a little kid, Harris said. Because somebody went to a confidante, why is that childish?
How Mike handled that situation, there is nothing I can comment on. People are different. Some people would have bashed [Sandusky's] head in. Mike followed procedure. Because some people higher up didn't do their job, he's suffering the consequences.