STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — In Bill O'Brien, Penn State picked a Happy Valley outsider to take over a storied program that had run into turbulent times in the final days of longtime coach Joe Paterno.
One of O'Brien's tasks as the Nittany Lions' first new coach in nearly a half-century will be to win over several former players and alumni who are skeptical about the hiring of a replacement without Penn State ties or angered by the search process triggered by Paterno's firing Nov. 9.
The New England Patriots' offensive coordinator will be formally introduced at a news conference on campus in the Nittany Lion Inn ballroom at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
"I am thrilled to be the head coach of the Penn State football program," the 42-year-old 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.
Former NFL linebacker Brandon Short, now an investment banker in New York, supported interim coach Tom Bradley, citing the longtime assistant's role in helping to maintain the program's high academic standards. He also praised Bradley's ability to guide the team through the crisis that enveloped the program starting two months ago when child sex abuse charges were filed against retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Short and fellow standout linebacker LaVar Arrington had organized a petition in support of Bradley's candidacy. Before the announcement Friday night of O'Brien's hiring, Short had said he would consider cutting his relationship with the school if someone without Penn State ties was hired, and that there might be a "large backlash" from other former players.
"I guess we'll just have to see how it works out," Short said Friday morning, hours before O'Brien's hiring was made official. "For Penn State's sake — hopefully they end up making the right decision."
Others, including former quarterback Kerry Collins, asked lettermen to give O'Brien a chance.
"Whether you agree or disagree with his hiring, we should support him," Collins said in a statement Friday night, according to the Reading Eagle. "Instead of chastising him for not being a Penn Stater, let's show him what it means to be a Penn Stater. ... Let's support him in any way we can."
Some fickle, fed-up Penn State fans also took to social media to debate O'Brien's resume and qualifications. While instrumental in running the Patriots' prolific offense, O'Brien has never been a head coach.
Now he's replacing Paterno, a Hall of Fame coach who won 409 games, the most in Division I, in 46 seasons on the job. And he'll be taking over a proud program tarnished by a scandal that also led to the departure of President Graham Spanier.
O'Brien and Paterno do share one connection — both attended Brown University.
"I understand Bill O'Brien has been named head coach and I want to congratulate him on his appointment," Paterno said in a statement to The Associated Press provided by his family. "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."
"Despite recent commentary to the contrary, Penn State football has always been about more than winning," Paterno added, citing what he said was the program's commitment to education and community service. "I am hopeful this tradition will continue."
This was O'Brien's first year coordinating New England's high-scoring offense, but he has coached star quarterback Tom Brady since 2009 and spent 2008 coaching receivers.
O'Brien recently was in the spotlight when he and Brady got into a heated argument, shown on national television, after Brady threw an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter of the Patriots' 34-27 win over the Washington Redskins on Dec. 11.
New England closed the regular season on an eight-game winning streak, and scored 513 points, the most in the AFC. Brady threw for 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns, with just 12 interceptions.
Short had planned to meet with Joyner on Friday in a meeting scheduled before reports began to surface about O'Brien. He said some former players — operating independently of the official Football Letterman Club for football alumni — might consider a lawsuit that would prevent the school from using their likenesses or images.
"The administration is under the belief that if they hire an NFL coach, or someone flashy, that they will fill seats," Short said in phone interview Thursday. "As an NFL player I can tell you that there is a big difference between developing young men and recruiting, then the combine and free agency.
"It's two different universes."
D.J. Dozier, a running back on the 1986 title team, said Thursday that the search committee should have polled current and former players and high school coaches in the region. He planned to sign the petition if more signatures were taken.
"Give that person and that staff a chance. I believe the current staff has done a good job," Dozier said. "Unless there's politics involved, give them a chance."
Penn State ended up going in a different direction.
Prominent donor Anthony Lubrano, a Penn State graduate, questioned the school's hiring process.
"Bill O'Brien might well be a fine football coach and more importantly an even finer human being," Lubrano wrote Friday in an email. "But by excluding the football (lettermen) from the search process, this administration has effectively communicated to them that their contributions to the Penn State family don't matter."
Earlier this week, Tim Sweeney, president of the Football Lettermen Club, promised that the next coach — whether or not he had Penn State ties — would get the support of his group.
"That guy needs to come in here and say 'I have all the former lettermen behind me,'" Sweeney said Thursday. "He needs to know that when he takes that job we're in support of him, regardless of who that guy is.
"Internal or external, it doesn't matter to us."