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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (CBS) — Riots broke out across the Penn State campus overnight, following the decision to fire head football coach Joe Paterno.
The university board of trustees fired Paterno Wednesday night, even though the 46-season veteran head coach said he would retire at the end of the season. He was brought down by the growing furor over the handling of child sex abuse allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
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The board also announced in the late-night news conference that school President Graham Spanier is also out.
Paterno came out of his home Wednesday night to talk to students who had gathered outside, but the crowds quickly got out of hand.
The New York Times reported after learning of Paterno’s dismissal, crowds marched toward downtown State College blowing vuvuzelas and air horns, and four girls danced on the roof of a parked sport-utility vehicle and dented it. Some students also threw toilet paper into trees.
But police lost control of the crowd just after midnight, and had to sue pepper spray on the crowd, the New York Times reported. The crowd tore down lamp posts and tipped over a news van parked on College Avenue, kicking out its windows as they chanted, “Tip the van!”
The New York Times reported two lamp posts were torn down, one of which landed on a crowd of students. They also broke car windows and tipped over trash cans and newspaper boxes, the newspaper reported.
The crowd also threw rocks, fireworks and pop cans at police officers at the scene, prompting the officers to use the pepper spray, the newspaper reported.
The newspaper quoted one student, Jeff Heim, 19, as saying “the board started this riot by firing our coach” and tarnishing a legend.
Earlier, the crowd expressed its support for Paterno, chanting, “We want Joe!” and holding signs with messages such as, “Joe Pa or Bust.”
“They’re going after the wrong guy,” one man told CNN for CBS 2. “Nothing has been proven wrong. If anyone, Joe’s legally clear, so if anyone did right, it’s Joe.”
“I’m just absolute stunned. I don’t know how they can do this to Penn State in general. Joe has been here so long,” another man said. “He’s retiring this season. Let him play his last game. It’s that simple. Everyone here is for that right now.”
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will serve as interim coach while Rodney Erickson will be the interim school president. The university scheduled a news conference with Bradley for Thursday morning.
Paterno released a statement following his ouster.
“I am disappointed with the board of trustees’ decision, but I have to accept it,” the 84-year-old Paterno said in a statement. “A tragedy occurred, and we all have to have patience to let the legal process proceed.”
In announcing the dismissals, board vice chair John Surma simply said they were necessary.
“The Penn State board of trustees tonight decided it is in the best interest of the university to have a change in leadership to deal with the difficult issues that we are facing,” Surma said.
Asked what Paterno did wrong, Surma said: “I can’t characterize that. We thought because of the difficulties that have engulfed our university, it was necessary to make changes.”
Speaking outside his home, Paterno said: “Right now, I’m not the football coach. And I’ve got to get used to that. After 61 years, I’ve got to get used to it. I appreciate it. Let me think it through.”
A grand jury report this week presented graphic and shocking allegations against assistant coach Sandusky, claiming that while heading up the Second Mile charity home for at-risk youth in State College, Pa., he sexually abused eight boys between the ages of 10 and 13.
Once considered Paterno’s heir apparent, Sandusky retired in 1999 but continued to use the school’s facilities for his work with The Second Mile. The charges against him cover the period from 1994 to 2009.
In one incident, the report alleges, a Penn State graduate assistant – since identified as published reports as Nittany Lions wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Mike McQueary – walked into the locker room at the Lasch Football Building on campus one day in March 2002. He found Sandusky engaging in sex with a young boy.
He left distraught and called his father, then reported the incident to head coach Joe Paterno. Paterno immediately reported to the incident to his own boss, athletic director Tm Curley, who now faces charges of perjury for lying to the grand jury about the matter.
Also charged with perjury is Penn State senior vice president for business and finance Gary Schultz, who told a grand jury he knew of an earlier 1998 investigation of sexually inappropriate behavior by Sandusky.