The family's critique, released Sunday, argues that the findings of the Freeh report published last July were unsupported by the facts.
Former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, one of the experts assembled by the family's lawyer to review Freeh's report last year to Penn State, called the document fundamentally flawed and incomplete.
Freeh's report reached "inaccurate and unfounded findings related to Mr. Paterno and its numerous process-oriented deficiencies was a rush to injustice and calls into question" the investigation's credibility, Thornburgh was quoted as saying.
In a statement released Sunday through a spokesman, Freeh defended his work.
"I stand by our conclusion that four of the most powerful people at Penn State failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade," he said.
Paterno's family released what it billed as an exhaustive response to Freeh's work, based on independent analyses, on the website paterno.com.
"We conclude that the observations as to Joe Paterno in the Freeh report are unfounded, and have done a disservice not only to Joe Paterno and the university community," the family's report said, "but also to the victims of Jerry Sandusky and the critical mission of educating the public on the dangers of child sexual victimization."
Freeh's findings also implicated former administrators in university president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and retired vice president Gary Schultz. Less than two weeks after the Freeh report was released in July, the NCAA acted with uncharacteristic speed in levying massive sanctions against the football program for the scandal.
"Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University — Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley — repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse" from authorities, trustees and the university community, Freeh wrote in releasing the report.
The former administrators have vehemently denied the allegations. So, too, has Paterno's family, though it reserved more extensive comment until its own report was complete.
The counter-offensive began in earnest this weekend. The family's findings said that Paterno:
• Never asked or told anyone not to investigate an allegation made against Sandusky 12 years ago, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2001.
• Never asked or told former administrators not to report the 2001 allegation.
• And never asked or told anyone not to discuss or hide information reported by graduate assistant Mike McQueary about the 2001 allegation.
"Paterno reported the information to his superior(s) pursuant to his understanding of university protocol and relied upon them to investigate and report as appropriate," the family's analysis said.
Paterno's widow, Sue, broke her silence Friday in a letter to hundreds of former players informing them of the report's impending release. "The Freeh report failed and if it is not challenged and corrected, nothing worthwhile will have come from these tragic events," she wrote.
"I had expected to find Louis Freeh had done his usual thorough and professional job," Thornburgh said in a video posted on paterno.com. "I found the report to be inaccurate in some respects, speculative and unsupported to the record compiled ... in short, fundamentally flawed as to the determinations made to the role — if any — Mr. Paterno played in any of this."
Freeh was brought in to conduct an independent investigation of the school's response to allegations and find any shortcomings in governance and compliance to make sure failures don't happen again, Penn State said in a statement Sunday. Freeh made 119 recommendations to strengthen policies, and the majority have been implemented, according to the school.
University trustees and leaders have been criticized by some dissatisfied alumni, ex-players and community residents for their handling of Paterno's dismissal, the Freeh report and the sanctions.
"It is understandable and appreciated that people will draw their own conclusions and opinions from the facts uncovered in the Freeh report," the school said.
Freeh, in his report, said his team conducted 430 interviews and analyzed over 3.5 million emails and documents. The former federal judge said evidence showed Paterno was involved in an "active agreement to conceal" and his report cited email exchanges, which referenced Paterno, between administrators about allegations against Sandusky in 1998 and 2001.
According to Thornburgh's findings, Freeh's report relied on about 30 documents, including three notes authored by Paterno, and 17 emails. Four emails referenced Paterno — none sent by the octogenarian coach who notoriously shunned modern electronic technology.
Sandusky, 69, was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison in October after being convicted last summer of 45 criminal counts. Prosecutors said assaults occurred off and on campus, including the football building.
His arrest in November 2011 triggered the turmoil that led to Paterno's firing days later. Under pressure, Spanier left as president the same day. Curley was placed on administrative leave, while Schultz retired.
Spanier, Curley and Schultz are awaiting trial on obstruction and conspiracy, among other charges. They have maintained their innocence.
Critics have said that Freeh's team didn't speak with key figures including Curley, Schultz and Paterno, who died in January 2012 at age 85. The authors of the emails referenced in Freeh's report, which included Curley and Schultz, were not interviewed by Freeh, the family's analysis said.
Spanier spoke to Freeh six days before the report was released July 12.
"They missed so many key people. They didn't interview most of the key players, with the exception of President Spanier, who at the last minute we brought in and interviewed at a time when frankly the report ... was pretty well all prepared," Thornburgh said on the video.
Freeh said he respected the family's right to conduct a campaign to "shape the legacy of Joe Paterno," but called the critique self-serving. Paterno's attorney was contacted for an interview with the coach, he said, and Paterno spoke with a reporter and biographer before his death but not Freeh's team.
Curley and Schultz also declined numerous requests for interviews, Freeh said. They have been facing criminal charges since November 2011.
Freeh on Sunday cited grand jury testimony by Paterno in 2011 in which Paterno said a graduate assistant relayed to him the 2001 allegation against Sandusky of a "sexual nature" with a child.
He referred to a key point in the July report in which he said Spanier, Schultz and Curley drew up a plan that called for reporting Sandusky to the state Department of Public Welfare in 2001. But Curley later said in an email that he changed his mind "after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe," according to Freeh's findings.
Said Freeh on Sunday: "These men exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky's victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not even attempting to determine the identity of the child" in the 2001 allegation.
The Paterno family report said Freeh chose not to "present alternative, more plausible, conclusions" about Paterno's actions. Their attorney, Wick Sollers, responded Sunday that Freeh didn't take the time to read the family's critique, or address accusations of procedural shortcomings.
"A failure to consider the facts carefully is exactly the problem our expert analysis highlights," Sollers said. "Everyone, including Mr. Freeh, should take the time to study this report."
Sue Paterno had directed Sollers, to review Freeh's report and her husband's actions. Sollers brought in Thornburgh, as well as former FBI profiler and special agent Jim Clemente, described as a child molestation and behavioral expert.
Also brought in was Dr. Fred Berlin, a psychologist from Johns Hopkins Hospital and School of Medicine whose profile lists him as the founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic.
The analysis included interviews, including of Paterno before his death, as well as a review of documents and testimony and "information from our access to the lawyers for other Penn State administrators."
The Paterno family's analysis said Freeh's report turned into a platform for scapegoating Paterno rather than seizing on an opportunity to educate about identifying child sex abuse victims, and ignored "decades of expert research and behavioral analysis regarding the appropriate way to understand and investigate a child victimization case."
It said expert analysis showed Sandusky "fooled qualified child welfare professionals and law enforcement, as well as laymen inexperienced and untrained in child sexual victimization like Joe Paterno." The coach respected Sandusky as an assistant, but knew little about Sandusky's personal life, the analysis said, though Freeh's report "missed that they disliked each other personally, had very little in common outside work, and did not interact much if at all socially."
Actions by entities outside of Penn State were not a focus for Freeh's review. "This was an internal investigation into Penn State's response ... and that is how the University has utilized the report," the school said.
Penn State removed a bronze statue of Paterno outside Beaver Stadium on July 22. The next day, the NCAA in levying sanctions said Freeh's report revealed "an unprecedented failure of institutional integrity leading to a culture in which a football program was held in higher esteem."
The NCAA improperly relied on that report and never identified a rules infraction "based on Sandusky's crimes, much less an infraction by Penn State that implicated the NCAA's jurisdiction and core mission of ensuring competitive balance," the Paterno family report said.
An NCAA spokeswoman said the organization stood by its previous statements and declined comment Sunday.
A four-year bowl ban and steep scholarship cuts were included among the sanctions, while 111 wins between 1998 and 2011 under Paterno were vacated. It meant Paterno no longer holds the record for most wins by a major college coach.