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Penn State Football: Patriots' Bill O'Brien to Coach Nittany Lions, ESPN Reports

by on January 05, 2012 11:40 PM

Bill O’Brien, the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator, will be the next Penn State football coach, ESPN reported Thursday night.

O'Brien, who missed the Patriots' practice on Thursday to interview for the position, will be introduced on Saturday, the network reported.

But it may be awhile until he permanently joins the Nittany Lions.

Adam Schefter of ESPN Tweeted that "New Penn State coach Bill O'Brien will continue to serve as the Patriots offensive coordinator for the season."

The Patriots are the top seed in the AFC and have a bye this weekend for the first round of the NFL playoffs. They play next in the divisional round of the playoffs, on Jan. 14-15. The Super Bowl will be played on Feb. 5.

There was no word about the leadership of the team in the interim. Penn State spokesman Jeff Nelson issued the following statement: “We will comment when we name the new coach.”

Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley has served as the team’s interim head coach since Joe Paterno was fired on Nov. 9 in the wake of the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Bradley, plus Nittany Lions assistants Jay Paterno, Larry Johnson, Sr., and Ron Vanderlinden, all interviewed for the position.

The focus of the interviews with Vanderlinden and Johnson was about being retained as assistant coaches, two sources said.

College coaches are permitted to visit recruits on Friday and Saturday, then no recruiting is permitted again until Jan. 13-28. National signing date for high school seniors is Feb. 1.

O’Brien joined New England in 2007 after 14 years coaching at the college level, at Brown, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke. O’Brien played linebacker and defensive end collegiately at Brown from 1990-92.

Paterno, who was fired in the midst of the 46th season of his Hall of Fame career, came to Penn State in 1950 after graduating from Brown. Paterno was an assistant coach for 16 years to Rip Engle, his head coach at Brown, before succeeding Engle in 1966. Paterno has the major college coaching record of 409 victories.


On ESPN’s SportsCenter Thursday night, former Nittany Lion quarterback Todd Blackledge, an ABC college football analyst, said he was surprised by reports that Penn State hired O’Brien.

Blackledge said he has no doubt O'Brien understands football, but questioned whether he understands Penn State and its culture.

“Certainly I hope it’s a good decision,” said Blackledge, who led Penn State to the 1982 national championship under Paterno’s direction, “but I have questions at this point."


After arriving in New England in 2007, O’Brien was an offensive assistant and then coached the Patriots’ wide receivers in 2008. He coached the New England quarterbacks – including Tom Brady – in 2009-10, while handling much of the play-calling. In 2011, he was promoted to offensive coordinator and also maintained his status as quarterback coach.

At the college level, he coached at Brown in 1993-94, before moving on to Georgia Tech for eight seasons (1995-2002) as an offensive assistant and the running back coach; in 2001, he was also offensive coordinator. In his final season, he was offensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

He as employed for a few days by Notre Dame after the 2001 season, when his boss at Georgia Tech, George O'Leary, took the head coaching job with the Fighting Irish. But after it was learned that O’Leary lied on his resume, O’Leary, O’Brien and the rest of the staff was fired. O’Brien then was hired back by the new Tech coach, Chan Gailey.

He then spent two years at Maryland (2003-04) as the running backs coach, before  joining Duke at the invitation of Blue Devil head coach Ted Roof. At Duke, he was offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for the Blue Devils, who were 1-22 in the 2005-06 seasons. Over those two seasons, Duke’s offense averaged 15.5 points per game.

O’Brien, a native of Dorchester, Mass., and his wife Colleen have two young sons, Michael, and Jack, who was born with lissencephaly, a rare brain disorder. His brother and father both played for Brown.  His parents live on Cape Cod, while his in-laws live in New York.


-- For O'Brien's Aug. 6, 2011, preseason press conference during the Patriots' training camp, click here.

-- For the Dec. 11 sideline argument between O'Brien and Tom Brady, click here.

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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