|Penn state have been without a coach since the firing of Joe Paterno in November last year and O'Brien, centre, is the first change in leadership in nearly fifty years [GETTY]
Penn State have hired New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien as their head coach, the first change in leadership for the storied football program in nearly half a century.
The announcement caps a turbulent two-month period that began with the firing of Hall of Famer Joe Paterno on November 9 in the aftermath of child sex abuse charges against retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
Not only is O'Brien replacing Division I's most successful coach, but he must also guide a program shrouded in uncertainty. Besides the criminal investigation into Sandusky, the NCAA has launched its own inquiry.
Some fickle, fed-up Penn State fans did not wait for the O’Brien’s official introduction before taking to Twitter to start debating O'Brien's resume and qualifications. While instrumental in running the Patriots' high-powered offence, O'Brien has never been a head coach.
Now he's taking over for Paterno, who had been on the job 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.
The new head coach also faced scepticism from some alumni and prominent former players.
Some supported interim coach Tom Bradley to be elevated permanently; others criticised the search process for not taking into account enough the opinions of those affiliated with the program who backed Bradley, a 33-year veteran of the staff.
Others still, including former quarterback Kerry Collins, asked for 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.''
|Former coach Paterno was fired in November after 46 seasons in charge [GETTY]
O'Brien has no apparent previous ties to Penn State and a proud program tarnished by a scandal that also led to the departure of President Graham Spanier.
O'Brien and Paterno do share at least one connection though - both coaches 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 the Patriots' legendary offence, but he has also 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 December 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.