Cirbus Coached at Penn State and UB; Joe Paterno Out as Head Coach

On November 10, 2011

  • Craig Cirbus coached at Penn State before coming to UB. He now reflects on his relationship with Sandusky. Courtesy of Paul Hokanson


            Like seemingly everyone who has ever been a part of the Penn State community, Craig Cirbus looked up to Joe Paterno – the king of college football.

            Cirbus can only turn his head downward now that the king has been dethroned.

            Penn State's current situation can only be described as absolute debauchery. For those living under a rock, mayhem has broken out in State College. Students are rioting, national media is clamoring, everybody is talking. Former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who coached under Paterno for 32 years, was arrested on Saturday. He has been charged with sexually assaulting nine adolescent boys.

            In the midst of mass chaos, Buffalo has a tie to the scandal: former head football coach Craig Cirbus (1995-2000), who also coached at Penn State from 1984-94. Cirbus participated in an email interview with The Spectrum on Thursday afternoon.

            "Jerry Sandusky was highly respected as a coach and as a person," Cirbus wrote. "From the first moment I met him, his compassion for young people and youth-at-risk was profound. He was a gentleman and a caring individual."

            Paterno, who won an NCAA record 409 games and two national championships, is out as head coach. He learned of Sandusky's perverted pursuits in 2002 and didn't go to the authorities, though he did go to the school's athletic director and vice president, who informed the president, Graham Spanier. Spanier – one of the most tenured presidents in the country – was fired on Wednesday.

            As for Cirbus' take on Paterno's exit? He was devastated.

            "Next to my parents, Joe was the most influential person in my life," Cirbus wrote. "As sad as it gets emotionally, the memories of all of his wonderful attributes and experiences far outweigh any of these negatives."

            Cirbus couldn't believe it. The man he had revered since 84, the man an entire campus looked up to for nearly five decades, saw his illustrious career come to a devastating end.

            The 23-page police report of Sandusky's arrest is sickening, mortifying, everything of the sort. Its contents are for mature eyes only. But Cirbus' eyes were on Jerry Sandusky for 10 years. Not once did he bat an eye. Not once did he suspect foul play.

            Cirbus, a UB grad, only coached at two colleges in his life: Penn State and Buffalo. He was an assistant coach at Penn State before moving on to be Buffalo's head coach in 1995. He's now an investment advisor, still living in Buffalo.

            Paterno epitomizes the term "icon." He is an 84-year-old legend who coached Penn State for nearly 46 years – only "nearly" because he was fired on the phone on Wednesday night, three games short of completing his 46th year. He received the message from the school's Board of Trustees.

            "I understand the course of action that the Board of Trustees took," Cirbus wrote. "They are the highest ranking committee on campus and they believed it was in the university's best interest to make the moves they did."

            People knew Joe Pa's day would soon come, but nobody could have predicted it would end in this fashion. The elderly coach insisted he would retire when he was ready.

            He was wrong.

            A packed news conference room at a local Pennsylvania hotel erupted shortly after 10 p.m. on Wednesday. The news of Paterno's firing was delivered to the media by John P. Surma, the vice chairman of the board.

            Approximately two hours after he was fired, Paterno released a statement to the media.

            "I am disappointed with the Board of Trustees' decision, but I have to accept it," Paterno said. He then encouraged everyone to respect Penn State and remain calm, before concluding with: "I have been incredibly blessed to spend my entire career working with people I love. I am grateful beyond words to all of the coaches, players and staff who have been a part of this program. And to all of our fans and supporters, my family and I will be forever in your debt."

            Sandusky retired after the 1999 season, but he had access to Penn State's facilities until last week. Now rumors are surfacing that Sandusky assisted in "pimping out" young boys to wealthy donors. Paterno and Sandusky worked together for 32 years, and before that, Paterno coached Sandusky at Penn State for three years.

            "The concept of believing that someone you trust so highly is capable of such a heinous activity is incomprehensible," Cirbus wrote.

            Buffalo went 19-47 in Cirbus' tenure, with the Bulls' most successful season coming in 1996. The team finished 8-3.



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