[Edit: This is meant to be helpful.]
IMO, the firing of Coach Paterno via a phone call was the best option available under the circumstances.
Take as a "given" that the BOT needed to fire Coach Paterno on Wednesday, November 9th. Obviously, this has been, can and will be argued forever. But, if the BOT needed to fire him on Wednesday, attempting a face-to-face meeting on November 9th would have been a disaster.
Factual and Normative Considerations:
item 1: there is no photo or video currently associated with the firing of Coach Paterno; no Youtube can be posted, no enduring seminal photo that will show up in books, telecasts, documentaries, etc., and, imo, this is a good thing for PSU:
item 2: there were between 300-500 reporters on campus as of Tuesday (Nov. 8) and continuing throughout Weds and over to Thursday morning;
item 3: there were hundreds if not thousands of students milling about on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights all over the campus and camped around Coach Paterno's house;
item 4: given items 2 and 3, there was no way to have a face-to-face conversation without it becoming public and, therefore, being recorded via photo and video which, imo, would have been bad;
item 5: however it would have been accomplished, a face-to-face firing of Coach Paterno would have created enormous symbolic problems for PSU which would have been bad.
Let's consider possible scenarios.
Scenario 1: Coach Paterno is summoned before the BOT at Old Main (or anywhere). Coach Paterno says "hell, no."
Some really bad narrative/symbolism there. This would have reinforced the idea that Coach Paterno was bigger than Penn State and the BOT. If Coach Paterno was not --- did not see himself ---- as "bigger than PSU," then why is he refusing to go to the BOT? And, since he is "bigger than PSU," then therefore, he must have known, clearly had the power to and should have done something about Sandusky.
To be clear, I am not making that argument. I am positing that such an argument could of/would of been made had Coach Paterno refused to be summoned to the BOT.
Scenario 2: Coach Paterno is summoned before the BOT at Old Main (or anywhere). He complies. He and Mrs. Paterno walk ---- yeah, no.
He and Mrs. Paterno get in their silver-colored car and drive to Old Main. A media/student frenzy ensues. [A reminder: on Tuesday, November 8, 2011, various media stories were written/published about the reporters chasing Coach and Mrs. Paterno as she drove him to football practice. Reporters Chasing Paterno's Car.]
If there is no entrance to Old Main (or where ever else chosen) that is private, then the media video/photos are of Mrs. and Coach Paterno surrounded by reporters as they walk into Old Main to be fired with questions being shouted, flashbulbs going off, etc. Then there would be subsequent video/photos of them leaving. More questions are shouted; maybe Coach Paterno stops and makes a statement; security is needed; students are angry; chaos; circus; etc. etc.
IMO, none of that is good. Future books would have written the story of Coach Paterno being summoned to his own "execution" and the images and video would have preserved the moments forever.
Maybe there is a way to enter Old Main (or where ever) with a car that is non-public. If so, then, the "walk in" and "walk out" are avoided, but the drive home will be just as chaotic. The narrative would still have been "summoned to his own execution" with video of the drive there and the drive home. All bad, imo.
Scenario 3 with about 100 sub-scenarios (all bad): Garban and Surna go to the Paternos' house to fire him (not Spanier, because Spanier is being or already has been fired).
The symbolism here is beyond bad. Again, this would have supported the media narrative of Coach Paterno as the King of Happy Valley. If Coach Paterno is not the King of Happy Valley, then why are the Pres and VP of the BOT going to his house? And, as King of Happy Valley, he coulda/shoulda done something about Sandusky. [Again, not my argument.]
But, for now, put aside the really bad symbolism and let's run the various sub-scenarios.
Garban and Surna walk from Old Main (or where ever) ... okay no.
They drive; same media/student circus frenzy.
They arrive at the Paternos' house. More media/student frenzy. There are no police; full chaos. Or, the police are there in full riot gear. There are not enough police (or maybe there are too many.) Can Garban and Surna even walk up the sidewalk? Again, really compelling video and images. It is 9-10 pm eastern time on Wednesday night (or maybe it is the afternoon?). Folks all over the world start tuning in on tv and the internet. Media talking heads are breathlessly describing the events as Garban and Surna try to reach Coach Paterno's front door. Grainy jittery video on CNN..... Someone throws a water bottle ....
Despite the water bottle, Garban and Surna finally reach the front door. They ring the doorbell.... nothing happens. They try again and again; ten minutes later, they leave.
Now, THERE is some bad symbolism and narrative.
or ..... Garban and Surna finally reach the door. Mrs. Paterno is there and sticks her head out. She is sad and looks a bit frightened, a somewhat disembodied head to the side of the screen door tilted to an almost 45 degree angle, her glasses magnifying her weary red-rimmed eyes and her hair tousled. 1,000,000 flashbulbs go off. The AP photo runs on the front page of 29 newspapers, wins seven awards, subsequently appears in 243 books and is later summarized by one Paterno biographer as follows: "the way her head is titled, with just the head and some fingers being visible at the side of the door, the eerie bug-like eyes, the hair draping like wet straw: it was the perfect photographic representation of the surrealism that was occurring in State College at that time."
Anyway, Mrs. Paterno gets Garban and Surna in the front door as quickly as possible.
Now everyone waits.
Two minutes later, Garban and Surna re-appear.... 1,000 shouted questions, the students are in a frenzy..... everyone is outraged.... "only two minutes!!!!" Garban and Surna try to get to their car; the students and media block their path; the police try and clear a path; someone throws a water bottle ....
or .... Garban and Surna finally reach their car and drive slowly, through the chaotic night, through the crowds of students and media while 1,000 questions rain down upon them, to Old Main. Then Surna starts the press conference and the first 30 questions are about what was said at Paterno's house including "why did you go to Coach Paterno's house?" and Cory Geiger's question: "Did SuePa offer any refreshments?"
or .... try again: Two hours later, Garban and Surna re-appear. 1,000 shouted questions, the students are in a frenzy.... everyone is outraged.... "What were you talking about for two hours????!!!" [As an aside, from thereon until the end of time, Garban and Surna and the Paterno family are endlessly asked by media and everyone else about what was said during that two hour meeting.]
or .... try again: An hour later .... try again: Twenty minutes later ....
No matter how long the meeting, the same chaos ensues when Garban and Surna come back out, the same circus at the eventual press conference and the same video and photos forever preserving the moments. None of this is good.
Other Options And Summary:
It seems clear to me that no private face-to-face meeting was possible with Coach Paterno on Wednesday, November 9th. And any attempted face-to-face would have resulted in horrific symbolic problems for PSU and unwanted photographic and video images.
Even if you reject the scenarios above, imo, the scenarios are not beyond the realm of possible. IMO, PSU could not even risk these possibilities.
The other options: letter, phone or internet/Skype (if technologically possible).
IMO, at least they had the guts to call and fire him voice-to-voice.