The child molestation scandal that has played out at Penn State over the last nine months has been difficult for the nation to watch.
It’s been much more difficult for those with close ties to the university.
Ed DeChellis, the former East Tennessee State basketball coach, is a Penn State alumnus who spent 17 years coaching at his alma mater. Now preparing for his second season at the Naval Academy, DeChellis says the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky affair has been painful and far-reaching.
“There have been times where you feel betrayed. You almost feel ashamed to be part of the institution,” DeChellis said Monday from Anapolis, Md. “It’s not just all of us who have graduated from Penn State, but those kids that are there now. My daughter Lauren is still there, and she’s not crazy about going back.”
The university was hit with unprecedented NCAA sanctions on Monday for its handling of Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator of the football team who was convicted last month on 45 counts of child sex abuse.
The Nittany Lions received a four-year postseason ban, must reduce scholarships for a four-year period, and vacate 112 wins dating to 1998 that will knock the late Joe Paterno from his perch as the winningest coach in major-college football history. The university also agreed to pay a $60 million fine to be used to fund outside programs that deal with child sex abuse.
“First of all, I don’t think anybody could have written something like this,” said DeChellis, a 53-year-old native of Monica, Pa. “It’s really hard to put into words … I’m just disappointed, so sorry for the victims, the young boys who were molested over however many years. How could this happen? The guys in charge, there’s just no defense for them. How do you defend anybody who allowed this culture to exist the way it did?
“I feel somewhat betrayed by the leaders of the university, allowing this to go on.”
Three former Penn State officials -- president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schulz – are accused of grand jury perjury and failing to report suspected child abuse. Sandusky, 67, is facing life in prison.
Paterno died in January at age 85. He had 409 career victories when he was forced out late last season, but his official total is now 298. (Bobby Bowden moved to the top of the list with 377.)
“I’ve got mixed emotions about that,” said DeChellis. “Coach Paterno was so good to me during my tenure there. It would be easy to sit back now and take shots, but I’m not going to do that. Let’s just say if things happened the way the Freeh report said they happened, I’m very disappointed.”
Paterno was in his early 70s when allegations that Sandusky was sexually abusing young boys first began to surface, but DeChellis said there was no generational disconnect with how the coach handled any issues surrounding his football program.
“This was a very, very sharp individual who had his finger on the pulse of everything,” said DeChellis. “Again, it’s really just indefensible.”
DeChellis graduated from Penn State in 1982 and returned to State College as an assistant to Bruce Parkhill two years later. He spent 10 seasons there before taking the ETSU job in 1996.
After leading the Bucs to the NCAA tournament in his seventh season here, he was offered the head job at Penn State. DeChellis also got the Nittany Lions to the NCAAs in his seventh season there, but he left a month later to take the Navy job.
As a longtime member of the Penn State athletic department, DeChellis crossed paths with Sandusky from time to time. The football coach was on staff from 1969-99 and still maintained an office on campus after leaving the program.
“If you walked into his office, he didn’t come across any way other than as a football coach. There were no red flags,” said DeChellis. “When I was an assistant, I saw him more. We did speaking things across the country together. When I was a head coach, I didn’t see much of him. He’d be around town, in restaurants or whatever, and that was about it.”
The NCAA penalties, including allowing current players to transfer and be eligible immediately, virtually guarantee Penn State won’t be a major player in college football for many years to come. The damage to its once-sparkling reputation will likely linger much longer than that.
“I’m not sure recovery is ever going to happen,” said DeChellis. “Football-wise, I think they already have a dozen kids reneging on commitments. When you can’t go to a bowl for four straight years or compete for Big Ten championships … that’s what it’s all about. The program is going to take a hit, and it’s going to be a huge hit.”