The announcement caps a turbulent two-month period that began with the firing of Hall of Famer Joe Paterno on Nov. 9 in the aftermath of child sex abuse charges against retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
Not only is O’Brien replacing Division I’s winningest coach, but he must also guide a program shrouded in uncertainty. Besides the criminal investigation into Sandusky, the NCAA has launched its own inquiry.
The 42-year-old O’Brien was set to be formally announced at a news conference Saturday morning.
Penn State hadn’t hired a head football coach in 46 seasons. In between, the 85-year-old Paterno won 409 games and was elected to the Hall of Fame.
“I am thrilled to be the head coach of the Penn State football program,” O’Brien said in a statement. “As head coach of this special football program, it is my responsibility to ensure that this program represents the highest level of character, respect and integrity in everything we do.”
He said that encompassed coaches, players and anyone else involved in the 125-year-old football program.
“There is tremendous pride in Penn State football and (we) will never, ever take that for granted,” O’Brien said.
This was O’Brien’s first year coordinating the Patriots’ high-scoring offense. New England is 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.
O’Brien was at Georgia Tech from 1995-2002, first as an offensive graduate assistant and later as assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach, in 2002.