Bill O'Brien is not a big name in the coaching ranks, and until four weeks ago, most football fans knew him only as the coach who had the gumption to yell at New England Patriots superstar quarterback Tom Brady on the sideline after an interception.
Now, according to multiple media outlets, O'Brien has the historic distinction of being the coach who will succeeded Penn State legend Joe Paterno.
O'Brien, 42, is in his first season as the Patriots' offensive coordinator, has no ties to Penn State and has never been a head coach at any level. He's a Brown alum, just like Paterno, and spent the first 14 years of his career as a college assistant before moving to the NFL with the Patriots in 2007.
AP file photo
New England Patriots offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien talks with quarterback Tom Brady (12) during a December practice in Foxborough, Mass.
Penn State did not confirm the hiring, which was first reported around 10 p.m. Thursday by ESPN. The network said an official announcement will be made Saturday.
"We will have a comment when we announce the new coach," PSU spokesman Jeff Nelson told the Mirror.
O'Brien plans to keep his job with the Patriots throughout the NFL playoffs as the team vies to win a Super Bowl, ESPN reported. He will try to balance that job with getting started with his Penn State duties, such as recruiting and putting together a coaching staff.
Paterno was fired Nov. 9 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal. He won 409 games, the most in Division I history, and built Penn State football into one of the biggest and most well-known programs in the nation.
The school's tradition and history of success led many fans to believe Penn State would land a star coach, despite the scandal. The search committee, led by acting athletic director Dave Joyner, kept its work heavily secretive, leading to rampant speculation and varied media reports about potential candidates.
Joyner was interviewed Thursday on the Penn State Sports Radio Network but offered no new information about the search.
"We have received a tremendous amount of interest in this (job) throughout this time frame," Joyner said. "In reference to that, I'm still receiving calls (and emails) ... from and about many very, very well-qualified coaches that continue to be interested in this job."
None of that interest, however, appeared to have come from high-profile college or pro coaches. Others mentioned recently as leading candidates included San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, while Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak, a PSU alum, said he was not interested in the job.
Penn State's search was in its 57th day Thursday, and the O'Brien hiring was met immediately with skepticism locally and nationally.
"The fact that he's never been a head coach, the fact that he's going into a situation in college football we've never seen anything like this (because of the scandal), not to mention he's replacing one of the greatest coaches in the history of this sport, that's a tough ask," college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said on ESPN.
"And for a guy that's never been a head coach, he better put together one of the best staffs we've ever seen as far as coordinators and guys that are used to kind of feeling that heat and that pressure."
One Penn State fan who said he never misses a home game contacted the Mirror after leaving an angry voicemail message with new university president Rodney Erickson.
The fan, who asked not to be identified, said the message, "Went something like, 'Hello, I, like many other diehard fans and alumni, feel disgusted and betrayed that you would make such an underwhelming choice when we paid more money for seats through the STEP program. I refuse to acknowledge you as a true Penn Stater because you let us all down. Thank you for not only hurting our university but potentially the whole Centre County economy.'"
Sources told the Mirror that Penn State's players were not made aware of the decision to hire O'Brien before ESPN broke the story.
Some players took to Twitter to convey their thoughts. Linebacker Nate Stupar, who just wrapped up his playing career in Monday's TicketCity Bowl, addressed one pertinent issue concerning O'Brien on his Twitter account.
"We did need a coach that knows how to put points on the board," Stupar tweeted, referencing the team's offensive struggles this past season.
With the exception of the 1994 season at Brown, when he coached linebackers, O'Brien has been an offensive coach his entire career. He hasn't always been successful, however, as he was the offensive coordinator at Duke from 2005-06 when the team went 1-22.
One of the most famous players in Penn State history, quarterback Todd Blackledge, said on ESPN that he doesn't know much about O'Brien but has questions about how effective he can be with the Lions.
"I understand Bill O'Brien probably understands football very well," said Blackledge, a college football analyst. "But I think understanding Penn State and what Penn State is all about and what Penn State needs to go forward from here, I think, is also equally as important as what he knows about football. So that leaves me with a little bit of a question mark."