Five years ago this week, Mike McQueary had a wife, a 2-year-old daughter and his dream job as wide receivers coach on the Penn State football team.
The 37-year-old former State College Area High School and Penn State quarterback had worked under legendary head coach Joe Paterno for more than a decade. His star was rising. His annual salary surpassed $140,000.
Today, McQueary is estranged from his daughter, separated from his wife and unemployed. He is 42. He lives with his parents in State College and sleeps in his childhood bedroom. The list of jobs he has applied for and been rejected for fills hundreds of pages in a thick black binder.
The binder is “Exhibit 79.” Last month, it sat on the table behind McQueary and his attorneys during a two-week trial at the Centre County Courthouse Annex in Bellefonte. McQueary sought $4 million in a whistleblower lawsuit against Penn State, for defamation and for damages he alleged resulted from the university’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case.
Exhibit 79 was introduced into evidence Oct. 21 when McQueary was called to the witness stand. He had testified five previous times under oath regarding the night in 2001 when he reported seeing Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in a shower in the football building on campus. This was, however, the first time McQueary was asked to describe how his life and career had unwound since he cooperated with a grand jury investigation and jumpstarted the case against Sandusky.
In the five years since McQueary was placed on paid administrative leave and instructed to leave town for the weekend as a media maelstrom descended on campus, he has not found steady work.
He applied for jobs in football and golf, medical sales and insurance, human resources and retail. His latest try, filed at the back of Exhibit 79, was an application submitted in early August to be a sales clerk or shift manager at the Rite Aid store a mile and a half from his parents’ home.
“At the end of the day, I go to bed saying, ‘It’ll be fine, Mike. You did the right thing. Eventually it’ll work out,’ ” he told the jury. “And it’ll be a long time coming. Hopefully, eventually it’ll work out.”
“Visibly shaken:” One day in December 2010, McQueary received a phone call that set in motion the Pennsylvania attorney general’s case against Sandusky. Two investigators, Anthony Sassano and Scott Rossman, were at the front door, his wife, Barbara, told him. They wanted to talk.
“I knew exactly what they were calling about,” McQueary said.
The story is one Mr. McQueary has told and repeated, one he thinks of every day. At around 9 p.m. on Feb. 9, 2001, he headed back to work after watching the film “Rudy”. A graduate assistant at that time, he went to an auxiliary locker room in the Lasch Building to drop off a new pair of sneakers. Before he opened the door, McQueary said, he heard slapping sounds. When he entered, he looked in the mirror and saw Sandusky and a young boy in the shower together “in a severely inappropriate position.” McQueary slammed his locker, saw that the two in the shower had separated and were standing side-to-side looking at him, and left the room.
McQueary hurried upstairs and called his father, John, who told him to head home. He recounted the incident to his father — a physician — and family friend, Dr. Jonathan Dranov.
“He was a 26-year-old man at that time and a pretty confident one, but not that night,” John McQueary said. “He was clearly and visibly shaken. Maybe a little pale. Maybe a little trembling.”
McQueary, counseled to inform Paterno, phoned the head coach at 7:30 a.m. and within a half hour was seated at Paterno’s kitchen table. Paterno didn’t permit his players and coaches to cuss, McQueary said, so to describe Sandusky’s criminal acts to Paterno “was nauseating.”
“One of the concerns perhaps from the very first minute was, who is going to believe me?” McQueary said. “Who is going to believe when I tell them that Jerry Sandusky was doing this? I didn’t know if my dad would believe me. … To his credit, Coach Paterno did believe me.”
McQueary heard little on the matter for 10 days before athletic director Tim Curley and vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz asked to meet with him. He told the story again, and they deliberated about who to tell and how to punish Sandusky. McQueary was unaware campus police had briefly investigated a May 1998 incident in which Sandusky was accused of inappropriately playing with boys in the shower. Schultz’s secretary, Joan Coble, testified Schultz kept a handwritten file on Sandusky in a bottom drawer in his office.
“I was told to never look at it,” she said. “I never looked at it.”
Ultimately, Curley and Schultz limited Sandusky’s access to the athletic facilities and ordered him not to bring the boys around. They also informed the head of The Second Mile, a charity Sandusky founded in 1977, of the sanctions. They then informed McQueary of the decision.
Over the next nine years, McQueary said little about Sandusky. When equipment managers and trainers asked why he always left the room when Sandusky arrived, however, he told them why. Tom Bradley, the former defensive coordinator who took over as interim head coach when Paterno was fired in November 2011, recalled hearing rumors in 2004 or 2005 about Sandusky, according to a deposition read in court . He asked McQueary about it. McQueary told Bradley what he had seen.
“What did you do?” Bradley asked.
“I turned it in to Joe and Curley and Schultz,” McQueary said.
Penn State’s secret eventually made its way to the Internet. That’s where, in a private message on a Nittany Lions blog, a fan asked McQueary’s brother, John McQueary II, if Sandusky would coach again. John II replied he didn’t expect Sandusky would return to the staff, especially since his brother caught him in the locker room with a boy some years back.
The fan, later identified by ESPN.com as Christopher Houser, sent an anonymous tip to the attorney general’s office. That’s how investigators came to be at McQueary’s doorstep in 2010.
“That’s not right:" The end came quickly for McQueary at Penn State.
Initially, McQueary was anonymous. In the grand jury presentment charging Sandusky, the witness was an unnamed graduate assistant. But as he rushed through Philadelphia International Airport on Nov. 6, 2011 — five years ago Sunday — on the way back from a recruiting trip to Boston, he saw a photo of himself on a TV screen in a bar. The witness had a name.
He had an email address, too, and threats poured in. One read: “Words cannot even begin to describe the intensity of rage I feel for you. I will do everything I can to get you fired and never work in even McDonald’s, let alone football. Your name has been marred forever. The legacy you left is one of disgrace. You traded an advance in your career for your soul. Enjoy hell.”
Penn State president Graham Spanier issued a statement pledging “unconditional support” to Curley and Schultz and suggesting charges against them stemming from how they responded to information about Sandusky were “groundless.” McQueary, meanwhile, received no such support
By Thursday, McQueary saw the writing on the wall. It was his last day as a football coach. He met with his receivers group and told them, “Listen, my gut is telling me I may not be here Saturday.” After practice, he was told to leave town for the weekend while everything blew over. It didn’t, though, and still has not.
On Friday, he drove to New Jersey with his wife, daughter and mother-in-law. On Saturday, he watched the game on TV and guessed it was the first Penn State game he had missed since 1992. On Sunday, he met with administrators and turned in his car, cell phone and keys.
This is one of the things that still bothers McQueary most, that he was asked to turn in his keys to the facilities while Sandusky had been allowed in the football building from time to time after earlier reports.
“You tell a guy who turns a bad guy in to not come around, and you cite this because of threats?” McQueary said on the witness stand. “In other words, as long as you get shot down on College Avenue and not in our facilities that’s all right, but if you get hurt in the stadium or at our facilities, that’s bad. That makes no sense to me. That hurts. I’m sorry, but that’s not right.”
A controversial person: In many ways, it is difficult not to entangle McQueary’s story with Sandusky’s and Curley’s and Schultz’s. He was never charged criminally, never in jeopardy of jail time, yet he remains recognizable nationally as the red-headed former Penn State coach tied to a child sexual abuse scandal. What price should the man pay who tried to do the right thing, but didn’t do enough?
The price has been steep. When McQueary’s contract with Penn State concluded at the end of June in 2012, his severance payment and insurance coverage were delayed for three months, and he did not receive his bowl game bonus. In August, McQueary cashed out his retirement account.
“Panic set in pretty quick,” he said.
Over the past five years, according to Exhibit 79, he has earned only $10,000, mostly from the yard work and maintenance he’s done at properties his father manages. The last $750 came when an agent contracted McQueary to teach Ross Travis, a Penn State basketball player, how to play tight end. Travis is now in his second season playing for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Despite the NFL names on McQueary’s resume, he’s come up empty time and again. He applied to Pitt, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Rutgers and Syracuse. To Duke, his father’s alma mater. To Davidson, Susquehanna, Villanova and Bucknell. To Norwich and Mount Ida. Bradley, now at UCLA, sent texts to coaches on McQueary’s behalf. But Temple coach Matt Rhule, McQueary’s childhood friend, testified he didn’t consider adding him to his staff.
The closest he came to landing a coaching job was in 2013 when Ernest Wilson, head coach at Savannah State, offered him $1,200 per month plus a furnished apartment for the season.
McQueary said he was “about a day from packing up,” but negotiations were shot down by the school’s athletic director, Sterling Steward, who called McQueary a “controversial person.”
After being involved “in one of the bigger scandals ever in college football,” McQueary admitted, “there’s 10 or 20 other guys he can pick from. They might not be the coach you are, but because you have this thing hanging over your head you’re just not going to get in.”
McQueary doesn’t blame prospective employers as much as he blames Penn State. He feels he was exiled and abandoned. He hasn’t been golfing with his buddies, the equipment managers, in five years. One guy had a retirement party a while back, and he wasn’t invited.
“Right now, as we sit here today, there’s a kid in some locker room or some church having the same thing happen to him and no one may know about it,” McQueary said. “And that person is scared to speak up. To treat someone that way who does speak up … who tries to stop something — maybe not perfectly, but who tries to do the right thing — it’s awful.”
As McQueary spoke, jurors looked at their feet. A woman in the front row sniffled. McQueary gestured over his right shoulder toward the main courthouse, where he testified against Sandusky. “I did a damn good thing,” he said. “And I can’t get a job at darn Rite Aid?”
“I’m a doggone good football coach,” he added. “I learned from the best football coach to ever step on this planet. He’s the best football coach ever. For me to not be able to go to work, as a coach or work a cash register, man, it’s humiliating.”
Exhibit 79 was closed, and after four hours of deliberation Oct. 27, the jury ordered Penn State to pay McQueary $7.3 million. The number could still rise. Judge Thomas G. Gavin has yet to rule on a non-jury, whistleblower count later this month. It could be settled. It could all be appealed.
McQueary, who grew up in State College and starred there, once believed he would be the next head football coach at Penn State. Now, he wants to move out of State College and move on. On the last day of the trial, he left the courthouse and drove away in his white truck. He headed home. The verdict had broken his way, and for the first time in five years, the future looked OK.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.