All the reports cited unnamed sources in the NFL and/or close to the Patriots. As of this writing, nobody had cited a named source or any source from Penn State.
O'Brien, 42, interviewed for the job Thursday, according to his agent. If the reports of a deal are accurate, he will be replacing longtime Nittany Lion head coach Joe Paterno, who was fired Nov. 9 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
As of 11 p.m. Eastern Thursday, the current Penn State staff and players had yet to be informed of any hire.
O'Brien has been the with the Patriots since 2007, and last season served as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. He spent the previous 14 years as an assistant in the college ranks, working at Brown, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke.
Like Paterno, O'Brien is a Brown graduate and played football at the Ivy League school.
On Sunday, USA Today reported that Penn State had a deal in place with O'Brien, and that both parties were waiting to work out particulars. Later that same day, PSU interim athletic director Dave Joyner denied that any deal was in place.
Shortly before ESPN broke the news of the hire Thursday night -- setting off a string of media outlets saying the same thing and using their own unnamed sources -- Joyner appeared on the radio broadcast of Penn State's home basketball game with Purdue. He said he intended to make a hire by Jan. 13, the start of an extended recruiting period leading up to national signing day for college football.
The interview was prerecorded by a Penn State employee and Joyner was not at the Bryce Jordan Center for the game. In the interview, he was not asked if a hire had been made.