America mourns football coach, fired for 'Zander offence'

America mourns football coach, fired for 'Zander offence'


norman lebrecht

January 23, 2012

The sports pages, and some front pages, are in black today for Joe Paterno, one of the most successful and beloved coaches in college football. He has died of lung cancer, aged 85. Paterno’s last years were marred by the discovery that his close associate and defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with child sex offences.

‘How was I to know?’ said Paterno. ‘I never came across something like that before.’ They fired him, anyway. Some said today that Paterno died of a broken heart.

There are similarities with the firing of Ben Zander, though not exact parallels. Zander knew his videographer had served time for a sex offence. He believed the man to be rehabilitated – and there is no suggestion that he offended again at any time at NEC or in the last 20 years. Zander was fired anyway. At 72, his epitaph will forever be clouded by this episode.

Like Paterno, he was naive and innocent of wrongdoing. Without in any way mitigating the monstrous crime of sexual abuse of children, the punishment inflicted on these men is disproportionate to their foolish misjudgements. And in Zander’s case, it appears NEC had fired him before it had the sex excuse. NEC president Tony Woodcock refuses to answer questions on this issue.


  • Brian says:

    Norman: don’t you mean “successful”?

  • Jane says:

    I’m not sure this comparison benefits your (otherwise excellent) case for Zander.

    There’s a *huge* difference in Zander’s belief in the rehabilitation of a known one-time criminal and the alleged or potential “looking-the-other-way” defence of Joe Paterno and Penn State.

    Penn State is under indictment for lying (in that it is alleged they covered up years of abuse by Sandusky), whereas Zander has not lied and has not covered anything up. In fact it appears he’s been fired for the opposite – being open and honest.

    Remember that JoePa’s defence was that he’d “never heard” of rape between men ( Presumably what he means is rape between a man and a boy.

    Paterno was a great coach, Zander is a great conductor. But the former was “on watch” while the alleged abuses took place. Zander was not.

    I love this blog, Norman, but I think you do Zander (and your great campaign on his behalf) a great disservice by linking him with the Penn State scandal.

    • Matt says:

      Just wanted to point out, while you are absolutely correct that, “Penn State is under indictment for lying (in that it is alleged they covered up years of abuse by Sandusky,)” Joe Paterno himself was not under indictment. His testimony was examined by the same prosecutors who handed down indictments against 2 other Penn State officials for their roles in the case and was found to be credible and truthful.

      If the people Paterno told had done their jobs this sad story (any child suffering abuse is awful) may not have reached the gigantically terrible status (with the additional abuse victims after the initial story) it did.

  • NIgel SImeone says:

    RIP Coach Paterno.
    But… “unsuccessful”? He had the most victories of any coach in his division and a stack of other records all of which were to do with success rather than lack of same.

    Still, he was certainly one of the unluckiest at the end of his life – the parallels with the Zander fiasco are clear. Desperately sad, and incredibly ineptly handled by senior managers who emerge as paranoid and over-reactive.

  • OperaNow! says:

    I think you meant “successful” ?

  • Steven says:

    Jane above is absolutely right. Even putting Zander’s name in the headline that way is a disservice to your friend.

  • Emil Archambault says:

    What? Paterno was given a clear witness report of a rape occurring in the school’s showers by the assistant coach and did not act on it.

    That is completely disgusting behaviour (although he was not accused, it is still morally unacceptable).

    Comparing him to Zander is clearly not doing Zander any good.

  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Agreed that these cases are not completely similar, but……there is a common element and that is the role of a Board of Trustees in the governance of an institution. In today’s litigious world, schools spend thousands of dollars each year to insure their trustees against liability law suits because the buck always stops with them. In both cases, trustees AND management were asleep-at-the-switch until the facts became public (an “anonymous” letter in one case, the wheels of Justice in the other) at which point they made (in both cases) radical, face-saving decisions to cover their well-dressed posteriors. I would like to think that they were protecting the children, the students, and the institution; but, my cynical side senses that were trying to save themselves from possible litigation and from the probing eyes of the Press. The Philadelphia Orchestra used to have a “little red book” of sayings by Chairman Gene (Eugene Ormandy) titled “Who is sitting in that empty chair?” One of his most famous, and most cynical remarks after a brief musicians’ strike was : “Ladies and gentlemen, principles are fine but when it comes to money, you have to be flexible.” Unfortunatley, both of these cases appear ultimately more about the fiduciary aspects of the institutions than about the people who have been hurt.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Norman: please change the word fiduciary in the last sentence to pecuniary. Fiduciary is too broad and is not necessarily just about money. Thanks for your blog which is a useful forum for the world of music. RF

  • Paul Ricchi says:

    America (meaning the United. States) is not mourning Paterno. Parts of the Penn State community are.