O'Brien Lands in Happy Valley

Penn State will hold a morning press conference Saturday to introduce the new head coach of the Nittany Lion football team. His arrival in town capped a wild day.

Bill O'Brien landed at Penn State Friday night, becoming the school's first new head coach since 1966 — or three years before he was born.

O'Brien will be introduced at an 11:30 a.m. news conference Saturday, airing live on the Big Ten Network and streaming at BTN.com.

Currently the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator, O'Brien signed a contract to replace longtime Nittany Lion head coach Joe Paterno, who was fired in early November in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

"I am thrilled to be the head coach of the Penn State football program," O'Brien said in a prepared statement. "I cannot tell you how excited I am to get started, meet the team, meet the football alumni and meet all of the people that make this university so special."

One of the first people to publicly congratulate O'Brien was Paterno, who did so through a statement his family released to the Associated Press. Both men are Brown graduates.

“I understand Bill O'Brien has been named head coach and I want to congratulate him on his appointment,” Paterno said. “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.”

Details of the contract — including when O'Brien will start — are not known. Penn State will hold the press conference Saturday at the Nittany Lion Inn on campus to announce the hire.

O'Brien, his wife and two children were on a Penn State plane that landed at University Park Airport at 6:47 p.m. A car was brought onto the tarmac to pick them up so they could avoid a cluster of media waiting outside the hangar where the plane is housed.

The group was whisked to the Bryce Jordan Center office of acting athletic director Dave Joyner, where, sources say, they held a teleconference with current players. The family left through a back door of the building to avoid meeting reporters.

It was that kind of day in Happy Valley.

When word leaked that Joyner had scheduled a 4 p.m. meeting with the current staff to discuss the coaching search, roughly two dozen reporters set up shop in the front of Lasch Football Building. Assistant coaches, many of whom had been on the road recruiting, generally declined comment on their way into the facility.

Upon his arrival, Joyner ducked questions of whether a deal had been struck with O'Brien.

“I'm not going to confirm anything — as I've always done — out of respect for people,” Joyner said.

When he left the building an hour later Joyner had a phone pressed to his ear and insisted he could not talk because he was on an “important teleconference.” He was still on the phone as he pulled out of the parking lot.

By that time, defensive line coach Larry Johnson and interim head coach Tom Bradley had student assistants enter their respective cars and drive them to the rear of the building. The two coaches then slipped away without having to face the media.

Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, the son of Joe Paterno, was the first assistant to leave through the front door.

“They're going to make the announcement when they make it,” he said. “I don't have anything for you guys.”

Asked if he was still employed by Penn State, Jay Paterno said, “Yeah. You know, who knows?”

Offensive line coach Bill Kenney said he was under the impression he was still employed, too, and that he intended to show up for work the next day and do, “What I always do on a Saturday — come into the office, look at some film and get started on a new day.”

Later, ESPN reported that Bradley had been fired. In a text to Fight On State, he said he had merely lost the interim head coach title but was still employed as an assistant coach.

In the meantime, O'Brien never did talk to Penn State beat reporters Friday. On the way into the Jordan Center, he waved and said hello, but left it at that.

He is only the 15th coach in the 125-year history of the Penn State football program.


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