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Bill O’Brien takes over at Penn State

New coach believes he’s perfect fit

Bill O’Brien (center) realizes “there’s not going to be a lot of sleep over the next 2-3 weeks.’’ Bill O’Brien (center) realizes “there’s not going to be a lot of sleep over the next 2-3 weeks.’’ (Pat Little/Reuters)
By Zack Feldman
Globe Correspondent / January 8, 2012
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - With the Patriots receiving a first-round bye in the NFL playoffs, offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien was able to fly here yesterday to be formally announced as Penn State’s new head football coach.

But his permanent stay will have to wait.

O’Brien, a Dorchester native, will meet with Penn State players this evening and then fly back to Foxborough to help the Patriots prepare for Saturday’s game.

He made sure to tell his new school about his commitment to see his current job through.

“I don’t think it’s going to be easy, but it’s something that’s been done before,’’ O’Brien said. “I’m concerned about the next 10-20 years here. So I think the best thing that I can do is show our team the kind of loyalty and commitment I have for the Patriots. And then go there and do the best job I can for the Patriots. It’s a one-game season.’’

Penn State officials are hoping the school’s first new head football coach in 46 years will usher in a brand new phase of the school’s legacy.

But before that can happen, O’Brien is still coaching for a Super Bowl.

The new coach was introduced in the ballroom of Penn State’s Nittany Lion Inn in front of a crowd of about 200, including media, school personnel, and family.

His deal was announced as $2.5 million per season, including a $950,000 base salary plus incentives.

In the days preceding the announcement, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft extended best wishes to the soon-to-be-departing coach.

“Over the course of his long coaching career, Bill O’Brien has met every personal and professional challenge head on with great passion and competitiveness,’’ Belichick said in a statement. “I expect Bill to draw on his deep background in college football and the NFL to continue attracting and developing top players.

“Bill will be up to the task and I couldn’t be happier for him, Colleen, and the O’Brien family.’’

Yesterday, O’Brien reciprocated.

“I can’t go any further without thanking the Patriots organization, led by Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick,’’ he said. “They have been nothing but supportive of me during this whole process.

“I can’t wait to see them again and thank them in person.’’

During a 25-minute session, O’Brien addressed issues ranging from his current duties for the Patriots, recruiting, and how he will handle his first head coaching job.

He talked about how he intends to split his time until the end of the NFL season - during which he won’t get many breaks.

“There’s no way I can stand up in front of our football team and talk about loyalty and commitment and then leave the Patriots at the start of a playoff run,’’ he said. “I have committed to the New England Patriots to see them through this playoff run.

“There’s not going to be a lot of sleep over the next 2-3 weeks.’’

And while he listed a number of influences on what will be his head coaching style, there’s one man he doesn’t expect to emulate.

“I’m not here to be Joe Paterno,’’ O’Brien said. “I’m going to be Bill O’Brien.’’

Despite mixed success in his 14 years of collegiate coaching, including a 1-22 run at Duke, where he was offensive coordinator, O’Brien said he believes he is a perfect fit for Penn State.

“I believe in myself,’’ O’Brien said. “I believe in the academic diversity of Penn State. I obviously believe in the football traditions here and the past football successes. What is not to sell about Penn State?’’

O’Brien refused to talk about several topics in detail, including his first contact with the school and the scandal that has plagued the school since early November. He spoke little about the future of current members of the coaching staff, saying only that defensive coordinator (and rumored head coaching candidate) Larry Johnson would return in 2012 and that he’s looking forward to talking to the rest of them.

A committee of six members led the search for a new coach, led by acting director of athletics Dave Joyner.

In O’Brien, Joyner said, the Lions have landed a coach with a strong history and tremendous leadership.

“We have found that person who has Penn State integrity and Penn State ideals, who can mold young men and lead our program to compete and win at the highest level,’’ Joyner said. “He comes with the expertise and passion to lead this important next chapter in Penn State football history.’’

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