PENN STATE’S “deliberate and methodical’’ search for a new head coach seems to have come to an end.
According to multiple reports, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien agreed to become Joe Paterno’s successor after an interview in State College yesterday.
In his 46th season, Paterno was fired Nov. 9 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual-abuse scandal and questions about his handling of the situation.
ESPN.com, citing unnamed sources, reported that an official announcement will be made tomorrow. Terms were not available, according to the report.
A Penn State spokesman said he had no comment. “We have maintained throughout the search that we would not comment until we announce the coach,” spokesman Jeff Nelson said.
A number of PSU players tweeted last night that they are coming back to State College today, presumably for a team meeting.
O’Brien’s agent, Joe Linta, did not return emails from the Daily News. A man answered Linta’s cell phone, but said it was not he, and then hung up. Earlier yesterday, he told the Associated Press that O’Brien was “flattered by the interest.”
O’Brien will remain with the Patriots through the playoffs, but will be involved in Penn State recruiting, ESPN reported.
In the 42-year-old O’Brien, Penn State gets an offensive-minded coach who spent most of his career in college, beginning at Brown — Paterno’s alma mater — in 1993. He has spent 12 seasons at ACC schools — Georgia Tech (1995-2002), Maryland (2003-04) and Duke (2005-06).
He has been with the Patriots since 2007, serving as a coaching assistant in his first season, wide receivers coach in 2008, quarterbacks coach in 2009 and 2010, and is in his first season as offensive coordinator. He took over play-calling duties in 2009 when Josh McDaniels left to become the head coach in Denver.
O'Brien was in the final year of his contract with the Patriots.
“I always enjoy working with him,” Patriots QB Tom Brady said Sunday. “I hope he’s here for a long time, and I told him that, too.”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick told reporters this week: "Bill does a good job. He works hard, he's smart, he's got a lot of experience. He's done different things here in terms of working with the receivers, working with the quarterbacks. I think he's got a good understanding of what our system is, what our players can do, and he's put them in good position to do it."
Earlier in the week, Linta told the Boston Herald that O’Brien was aiming for an opportunity in the NFL before considering other options. Reports indicated he was scheduled to interview with the Jacksonville Jaguars about their head-coaching vacancy today.
What O'Brien lacks is any head-coaching experience. Asked last month how important that experience was to a potential candidate, acting athletic director David Joyner said, "Certainly head coaching experience is a strong thing to consider, but head coaches had to have been assistants somewhere."
The Penn State opening was the final one among the 25 coaching changes in the FBS, amid questions of how attractive the job was for a prospective coach faced with cleaning up the mess left after the Sandusky scandal. Joyner has insisted the interest was robust.
National signing day is Feb. 1. The next open recruiting period begins Jan. 13. The Super Bowl is 4 days after signing day.
His first task will be persuading the dwindling numbers of players who have committed to remain with the school. Fourteen players have given verbal commitments.
He also will need to decide whether any of the current members of the coaching staff, including interim head coach Tom Bradley, will remain. From the outset, indications have been that Penn State would be looking for a clean break from the Paterno era, with most of the current coaching staff having long ties to the program. That stance has angered many former players.
Bradley and the Penn State coaches have been on the road recruiting. Earlier yesterday, Bradley tweeted that he was in Western Pennsylvania at the high school that produced LaVar Arrington.
"As always, receiving great feedback from high school coaches in Western PA regarding Penn State football," a Bradley tweet read.
Bradley did not respond to a message left on his cell phone late last night.
According to ESPN, the Patriots will use the same model they used in 2004 when then-offensive coordiantor Charlie Weis was hired to the head coach at Notre Dame. Weis remained with the Patriots through the Super Bowl.
During the radio broadcast of last night’s basketball game with Purdue, a prerecorded interview with Joyner aired in which he established a timetable.
“I do anticipate having a coach in place in time to take advantage of the open \[recruiting\] period that is coming up,” Joyner said . “I would love to have someone in place by then and I would anticipate we’ll be able to do that.”
Penn State formed a six-member search committee in late November that has largely operated in secret despite the massive media attention. Joyner said 2
weeks ago that he was keeping the identity of the candidates quiet out of respect for their current positions.
Joyner outlined the qualities he was looking for during a news conference in Dallas before the TicketCity Bowl, which Penn State lost to Houston.
"Integrity, academics and knows how to win football games," he said. "Those things are no different than what I think any great coach should have. You have to start with integrity first, and you have to understand the interplay between academics and athletics. And my opinion has always been as is the president’s, that the best athlete is somebody who pays attention to everything off the field as well as on the field. So athletics is just another classroom. We want athletes who pay attention to those things and understand those things."
Penn State interviewed San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman more than a month ago, he has said. The school also talked to Green Bay quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, although Clements has declined to comment, and reportedly had an in-person interview scheduled with him. Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak, a former PSU star offensive lineman, denied that he was interested several times, despite persistent reports that he was. Bradley and current assistants Larry Johnson, Jay Paterno and Ron Vanderlinden also were interviewed.
It was clear from looking at the reported candidates that Penn State is looking for a more offensive-minded coach who might eschew Paterno's long-held philosophy on offense, although the Nittany Lions have evolved some.
Penn State struggled mightily on offense this season, though. The Lions averaged 345.4 yards per game, which is 93rd in FBS, and scored an average of 19.8 points, 110th in FBS.
In other PSU news, four players have accepted invitations to play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 28 in Mobile, Ala.
All-America defensive tackle Devon Still, defensive end Jack Crawford, cornerback D’Anton Lynn and guard Johnnie Troutman will play for the North squad.
Also, Still has signed with agent Drew Rosenhaus. Rosenhaus confirmed that he is representing Still, who is expected to be a late first-round pick.