Sandusky’s suspicious sunset
In 1998 when the first allegations of child molestation were leveled, Jerry Sandusky was generally regarded as one of the best — if not the best — defensive coordinators in the country. A recent ESPN story called him “the architect of the 1982 and 1986 defenses that were driving forces behind Penn State’s national championships.”
Sandusky was the mastermind of squads that had unparalleled success, and he helped churn out a few dozen top-notch NFL prospects, earning Penn State the moniker “Linebacker U.”
It is curious that someone like Sandusky retires at the height of his excellence (1999), but then more curiously, he vanishes from the national radar. Sandusky, despite his extraordinary on-the-field success, was never mentioned for any job openings.
This is strange. Someone with Sandusky’s resume doesn’t just vanish from the national sports conversation. He would have been on a short list of potential candidates for high-profile head coaching and defensive coordinator jobs. He would have been routinely reported as one of several candidates being considered by X, Y, Z University when there was a major job opening.
This is what sports reporters do: speculate. They speculate about head coach openings, trades, free agents, draft picks. ESPN’s website has a whole section devoted to this kind of “reporting”: it’s called “Rumors Central” and it is subscription-based. Fans love it.
Sandusky was heir-apparent to coaching icon Joe Paterno until he quietly “retired” from Penn State. Since he had the pedigree to be in line for that job, he would have been a major find for other schools from “mid majors” to some of college football’s most storied programs.
But he wasn’t, which suggests either that other coaches beyond Penn State either knew something, got a “bad vibe,” however vague, when they inquired, or didn’t want to know anything.
Symbiosis versus conspiracy
As Louis Freeh’s recent report makes abundantly clear, the cover-up to push Sandusky off-stage was, at the Penn State level, a conspiracy. But its apathetic reception in the broader college football community for more than a dozen years may be better explained by symbiosis — the unspoken intuition that everyone’s mutual needs are best met by not turning over the rotting tree stump of Sandusky’s retirement.
This is what cover-ups count on: Nothing to see here, folks.
It is also likely that many in college football could not have imagined that whatever “bad vibe” they may have gotten about Sandusky would turn out to be a veritable one-man industry of horrors.
College football may be held accountable for a corrupt value system and a failure of imagination, but not a failure to act on clear warnings.
The brass at Penn State are a different story.