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Thursday, January 5, 2012
Updated: January 6, 9:25 PM ET
Bill O'Brien to coach Nittany Lions

ESPN.com news services

New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien has agreed to become Penn State's first new head football coach in nearly a half-century.

The Nittany Lions plan to announce O'Brien's hiring Saturday, sources told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen. Acting athletic director David Joyner on Friday did not say what the announcement would be about, when it would be made or how it would be communicated. Joyner met with the coaching staff on Friday afternoon.

According to a website that tracks flights, a plane registered to Penn State returned from the Boston area to State College on Friday evening. O'Brien was seen on campus with his family later in the night, including a stop at the athletic department offices at the Jordan Center.

Joyner declined comment on the reports about O'Brien when he arrived Friday at the team's spacious, glass-enclosed headquarters on campus. He was scheduled to meet with the coaching staff and other officials at the program.

"I'm not going to confirm anything as I've always done out of respect for people," Joyner told reporters. "When there is something to confirm, I'll let you know."

By dusk, several coaches had trickled out one-by-one from the football building to head home. Each declined comment, though when asked, a couple assistants said they planned to return to work Saturday.

A person familiar with the discussion told the AP Friday evening that the assistant coaches were informed that a new head coach had been hired, and was not from the current staff, though the replacement was not identified. That person also spoke on condition of anonymity because no one was authorized to speak about the discussion.

The Associated Press reported Friday that terms and details of O'Brien's contract still needed to be set, that nothing was official and there was no signed contract.

Division I's winningest coach with 409 victories, Joe Paterno was fired Nov. 9 by university trustees following 46 seasons in the aftermath of child sex abuse charges against retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. O'Brien has no apparent ties to Penn State and a proud program tarnished by a scandal that also led to the departure of school president Graham Spanier.

O'Brien and Paterno do share at least one connection though -- both coaches attended Brown University.

"I understand Bill O'Brien has been named head coach and I want to congratulate him on his appointment," Paterno said in a statement to the AP provided by his family. "I don't know Bill, but I respect his coaching record, and I am particularly pleased we share a connection to my alma mater, Brown."

"Despite recent commentary to the contrary, Penn State football has always been about more than winning," Paterno added, citing what he said was the program's commitment to education and community service.

"I am hopeful this tradition will continue."

Paterno I understand Bill O'Brien has been named head coach and I want to congratulate him on his appointment. I don't know Bill, but I respect his coaching record, and I am particularly pleased we share a connection to my alma mater, Brown. ... Despite recent commentary to the contrary, Penn State football has always been about more than winning. I am hopeful this tradition will continue.

-- Former Penn St. coach Joe Paterno

O'Brien, 42, will be a head coach for the first time and never coached or played at Penn State. He will continue to work as the Patriots' offensive coordinator through the NFL playoffs, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

O'Brien interviewed Thursday with Penn State, his agent, Joe Linta, told The Associated Press.

"I'm sad to lose him. I told him that," Patriots owner Robert Kraft told the Boston Herald on Friday. "We have a philosphy in our company, that if anyone has an opportunity and we can't match it -- we did have the ability to deny him under our contract -- but this is one of the great college coaching positions. They have their challenges right now.

"Billy is a very high-quality guy. He's got integrity. He's honest, and I'm sad to see him go, but I think they've chosen wisely."

Interim head coach Tom Bradley told ESPN's John Barr that he met one-on-one with Joyner, who told him they decided to go in a different direction.

Asked if he would remain on the staff, Bradley said he's had other offers. In reflecting on his short time at the helm of Penn State, he said: "I have learned more in 55 days than most people learn in a coaching career. I'm better for it."

Earlier Friday, Bradley's attorney, Rich Puleo, said the interim coach had been fired by Penn State, a report Bradley refuted.

"I am not fired by Penn State," Bradley said. "I am still an employee of Penn State University, still a member of the staff -- everybody is on the staff until (O'Brien) decides who he wants to keep on his staff."

This was O'Brien's first year coordinating the Patriots' high-scoring offense, but he has coached star quarterback Tom Brady since 2009. He spent 2008 coaching New England's receivers.

At Patriots practice Friday, receiver/defensive back Julian Edelman would not say if O'Brien was with the team.

"You're always happy to see a guy succeed and get opportunities," Edelman said. "When guys go different directions, it gives opportunities for other people. We'll see."

The Patriots are off this weekend and will host a divisional-round playoff game next weekend. They went 13-3 this season, won the AFC East going away, and secured the conference's No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs.

New England closed the regular season on an eight-game winning streak, and scored 513 points, the most in the AFC. Brady threw for 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns, while being picked off just 12 times.

O'Brien has been working on assembling his staff. Tennessee Titans offensive quality-control coach Charles London is expected to go to work for O'Brien as running backs coach, an NFL source told Schefter.

O'Brien joined New England in 2007 following 14 seasons on the college level, including stops at Duke, Maryland and Georgia Tech. He played football at Brown -- Paterno's alma mater.

Running back Re'quan Boyette, who played for O'Brien at Duke, said: "He feels nobody can stop his gameplans. He is a great preparer. He believes in his system. There will be a transition period but they have the right guy. He is a great guy and a great coach."

Bradley, who took over for Paterno on an interim basis after serving as defensive coordinator, also interviewed. Bradley was on the road recruiting Thursday, the second of a four-day recruiting contact period. Another 16-day contact window starts Jan. 13.

"I believe the search is continuing and progressing very well as we hoped it would," Dave Joyner, Penn State's interim athletic director, said during a taped segment at halftime of the radio broadcast of Thursday night's basketball game between Purdue and Penn State. "I anticipate having a new head coach in place in time to take full advantage of the open period that's coming up."

Former Penn State All-American linebacker Brandon Short told ESPN.com senior writer Don Van Natta Jr. that members of the influential Lettermen's Club have a meeting scheduled with Joyner for 1 p.m. ET Friday.

"It's unfortunate that Coach O'Brien ... has not been made aware of the implications of him being in this position," said Short, an investment banker. "I don't envy him at all. He doesn't have support of the vast majority of former Penn State players and the vast majority of the student body and the faculty won't support him. I feel sorry for him."

Short said some members of the group were considering a range of options to express their displeasure, including asking current players to transfer and recruits to de-commit.

Short told USA Today they were mulling a lawsuit in an effort to bar Penn State from using their likenesses or images for marketing purposes.

Bill O'Brien
Bill O'Brien will leave the New England Patriots to coach at Penn State, according to sources.

"It appears as if it is Dave Joyner's intent to disassociate himself with everything related Penn State," Short told ESPN.com. "Then a group of former players will now disassociate ourselves from everything related to Penn State."

Former Penn State running back D.J. Dozier also said he was upset to hear about O'Brien's hiring, but also tempered his comments because of the high praise coming from Brady.

"I don't know much about O'Brien -- when you read quotes like the one from Tom Brady about what kind of coach he is, that's a pretty strong endorsement from one of the best quarterbacks in football, or the best quarterback in football," Dozier told ESPN.com's Van Natta Jr.

Kerry Collins, who quarterbacked Penn State's undefeated 1994 squad, released a statement calling upon fellow Penn State lettermen to support the new hire.

"Much is being said about the hiring of Bill O'Brien as the next football coach at Penn State. I do not know him. I have never met him nor been coached by him. One thing I do know is that I will support him and I call on all Penn State football lettermen to do the same," Collins wrote. "Whether you agree or disagree with his hiring, we should support him. Instead of chastising him for not being a Penn Stater, let's show him what it means to be a Penn Stater. Coach O'Brien is faced with the daunting task of resurrecting our beloved, yet bruised program. Let's support him in any way we can."

Current Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin supported the O'Brien hiring.

"I am excited about the hiring and some of the players I have spoken with are excited as well," McGloin said. "I am anxious to get spring ball started and am ready for a fresh start. I think Coach O'Brien will lead us in the right direction and am looking forward to working with someone who has a lot of experience with quarterbacks. I think it is a great hire and a great thing for Penn State football."

Defensive line coach Larry Johnson also interviewed with Penn State. Two people with knowledge of the search confirmed earlier reports that Paterno's son, quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, interviewed as well. The two requested anonymity because no one was authorized to speak about the search.

The Patriots are third in the NFL overall in scoring (32.1 points per game), and second in total offense (428 yards) and passing (317.8 yards).

Penn State finished a 9-4 campaign with a 30-14 loss in the TicketCity Bowl to Houston on Jan. 2. The Nittany Lions relied on defense much of the year after the offense struggled with a two-quarterback system.

Information from ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, ESPN.com senior writer Don Van Natta Jr. and The Associated Press was used in this report.