STATE COLLEGE - Penn State trustees fired football coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier amid the growing furor over how the school handled sex abuse allegations against an assistant coach.
The massive shakeup Wednesday night came hours after Paterno announced that he planned to retire at the end of his 46th season.
But the outcry following the arrest of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on molestation charges proved too much for the board to ignore.
"The university is much larger than its athletic teams," board vice chair John Surma said during a packed news conference.
Paterno and Spanier were informed by telephone of the unanimous decisions to remove them.
"We were unable to find a way to do that in person without causing further distraction," Surma said.
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.
"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.
"The past several days have been absolutely terrible for the entire Penn State community. But the outrage that we feel is nothing compared to the physical and psychological suffering that allegedly took place."
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 at his house to students, Paterno said, "Right now, I'm not the football coach, and that's something I have to get used to.After 61 years, I've got to get used to it. I appreciate it. Let me think it through."
His wife, Sue, was teary-eyed as she blew kisses to about 100 students on the lawn. "You're all so sweet. And I guess we have to go beat Nebraska without being there. We love you all. Go Penn State," she said.
Former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was charged last week with molesting eight boys over a 15-year period. He has denied the charges.
A grand jury report said at least two of the assaults were witnessed on campus - and one of those was reported to Spanier.
But the university president did not tell authorities about the reported attack on a young boy, which football team graduate assistant Mike McQueary claimed to have seen in 2002. The graduate student's accusation was passed up the chain of command to Spanier, but he said the seriousness of the encounter was not conveyed to him.
The investigation is continuing. State Attorney General Linda Kelly said Monday that Paterno is not a target of the inquiry into how the school handled the matter, but she refused to say the same for Spanier.
State police Commissioner Frank Noonan earlier this week criticized school officials' handling of the allegations, saying "a football coach or a university president or the guy sweeping the building" had a moral responsibility to call police if they suspected a child was being sexually abused. He also said Penn State had "a culture that did nothing to stop it or prevent it from happening to others."
Hundreds of students gathered about two blocks from the campus, with some chanting "We want Joe! We want Joe!" Some shook a lamp post and others tipped over a news van, kicking out its windows. Police fired bursts of pepper gas.
The firings came three days before Penn State hosts Nebraska in its final home game of the season, a day usually set aside to honor seniors on the team.
Calls for Spanier's ouster by newspapers, online groups and petitions mushroomed in recent days, many supported by upset and disillusioned alumni.
The 63-year-old Spanier has led Penn State since 1995, and his current contract runs through 2015. The mammoth university system headquartered in State College includes 96,000 students on 24 campuses and has an annual budget of about $4.3 billion.
Spanier is among the highest-paid public college presidents in the country, earning more than $800,500 in annual base pay, deferred compensation and retirement contributions, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
He told The Associated Press earlier this year that he considered his salary, which was set by trustees, to be "very generous" and that it "feels peculiar for someone who grew up in a poor family."
Spanier has donated more than $1 million to the university. He also has overseen $3 billion in philanthropic contributions to Penn State during his tenure, according to his biography.
Spanier is well known in academics and athletics, both inside and outside Pennsylvania. He heads the Bowl Championship Series presidential oversight committee, hosts a sports talk show on the Big Ten's television network and previously led the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
Penn State is a state-related institution that receives some public funding but is not under direct state control.
Spanier is trained as a family sociologist, demographer and marriage and family therapist. He first served in Happy Valley from 1973 to 1982 as a member of the faculty and in three administrative positions in the College of Health and Human Development.
He later went on to serve as chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Oregon State University and vice provost for undergraduate studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
He received bachelor's and master's degrees from Iowa State University, followed by a doctorate in sociology from Northwestern University.
Spanier and his wife, an English professor at the university, have two children, both Penn State graduates.
Penn State student body President T.J. Bard, who said he has worked closely with Spanier over the past two years, called the president "a phenomenal leader for this university."
"That's not something that should be overlooked very quickly," he said.
Associated Press writers Kathy Matheson and Patrick Walters in Philadelphia contributed to this report.