Mike McQueary civil trial begins against Penn State

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- Former Penn State football player and coach Mike McQueary maintains the only reason he was fired by Penn State in 2012 was due to his grand jury testimony against Jerry Sandusky which implicated two former school administrators who failed to act on the report of suspected child sex abuse, his attorney told a Centre County jury Monday.

McQueary is fighting for $4 million in damages from Penn State University in a civil trial which began in Bellefonte. McQueary, who was a graduate assistant in the Nittany Lions football program in 2001, told a grand jury investigating Jerry Sandusky that he saw the former coach engaging in "horseplay" with a young boy inside a Penn State locker room shower.

McQueary reported the suspected abuse to his head coach, Joe Paterno, as well as former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and former head of campus police, Gary Schultz. McQueary was misled into thinking the school administrators would report his claims, McQueary's attorney Elliot Strokoff said.

In 2011, when the grand jury presentment was released and Sandusky, Curley, and Schultz were arrested, Penn State placed McQueary on administrative leave, did not allow him to coach football the rest of the season, and was let go after new head coach Bill O'Brien filled his coaching staff in 2012. McQueary feels the school defamed him, which did "irreparable harm to his ability to earn a living, especially in his chosen profession of coaching football," Strokoff told the jury.

Penn State acted with malice, Strokoff said, because, "If Mike McQueary folds (or) collapses, then the charges against (former administrators) Gary Schultz and Tim Curley collapse."

University counsel, led by Nancy Conrad, maintain McQueary's ousting had nothing to do with Jerry Sandusky, and more to do with his own failure to report the Sandusky concerns to law enforcement officials in 2001.

Conrad added that Penn State's decision to not renew McQueary's contract and let him go was because O'Brien did not want McQueary, then a wide receivers coach, on his new staff. While McQueary's attorneys argued he was the only holdover from Joe Paterno's coaching staff not to get an interview with O'Brien, Penn State says it was because O'Brien already had a wide receivers coach in mind, Stan Hixon, who he worked with at Georgia Tech.

McQueary was unable to get hired as a football coach anywhere else, not because the university smeared his reputation, Conrad said, but because he "failed to develop a network, which is the number one factor that is essential in obtaining a position in the field of coaching."

The Centre County jury heard from four witnesses on the first day of testimony, including former attorney general lawyer Jonelle Eshbach, former Penn State associate athletic director Fran Ganter, former university chief counsel Wendell Courtney, and former head of university public relations, Lisa Powers.

The trial is expected to last two weeks.

Conrad alluded to upcoming witness testimony from former Penn State Presidents Graham Spanier and Rodney Erickson, as well as current Temple University head football coach Matt Rhule, who was childhood friends with McQueary in nearby State College.

According to Ganter, heĀ  attempted to reach out to Rhule, a former Penn State player, to help McQueary land a job on his coaching staff at Temple. Rhule never returned his call about McQueary, Ganter testified. Conrad said Rhule would testify that McQueary did not have a range of experience to be a major college football coach because he had coached his entire career under Joe Paterno.