Penn State hiring Patriots assistant


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The coach who recently had a heated sideline spat with New England quarterback Tom Brady is the same guy who will become Penn State University's new head football coach.

Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien -- a hard-nosed, old-school coach -- interviewed for the Nittany Lions' vacancy Thursday and later accepted the job, a source told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Terms of the deal are not known, but Mr. O'Brien is expected to remain with the Patriots for the NFL playoffs.

Penn State fired Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno Nov. 9 in the wake of a child sexual abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

Mr. Paterno was replaced by interim coach Tom Bradley, who guided the Lions to a 1-3 finish. As of late Thursday night, no Penn State coaches or players had been informed of the hiring.

"Coach O'Brien is very intense," said Cleveland Browns third-string quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, who started as a freshman at Duke in 2006 in Mr. O'Brien's second and final season as offensive coordinator there. "He demands the heck out of you, but he's going to give you everything he has. He loves the game of football.

"There was tough love, tough coaching, but it actually helped me out, helped me to get to where I am today."

Former Duke wide receiver Eron Riley said Thursday he wasn't shocked by Mr. O'Brien's confrontation with Mr. Brady over an interception.

"It didn't surprise me at all," Mr. Riley said. "He's a competitor. He wants to win. I'm sure those guys were fine afterwards. He's a competitive person. I'm sure that's happened plenty of times. It's just the first time they caught it on camera."

Mr. O'Brien, 42, a Massachusetts native, arrived at Brown University in 1988. He played defensive end and linebacker, following in the footsteps of his father and older brother, who both played for the Bears.

Mr. O'Brien worked for two years as a graduate assistant before accepting a similar position on Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary's staff in 1995. He spent eight seasons at Georgia Tech and served as the Yellow Jackets' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in his final two years.

He initially followed Mr. O'Leary to Notre Dame in December 2001, but Mr. O'Leary was fired five days later for lying about his academic and athletic background on his resume. Mr. O'Brien was rehired as offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech by Chan Gailey, a former Steelers assistant coach and current Buffalo Bills head coach.

Mr. O'Brien joined Ralph Friedgen's Maryland staff for two years as running backs coach. Mr. O'Brien later moved to Duke, where he was offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in '05-'06. The Blue Devils were 1-22 during his two seasons, but he was instrumental in helping Mr. Lewis develop into a two-time, second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick.

"He certainly helped me out a lot," Mr. Lewis said. "I was a freshman starting for him, but once he allowed me to open up the offense and do some things, we were very, very successful. He demanded perfection from us quarterbacks and he's doing the same thing with Tom Brady now."

After spending 12 years in the ACC, Mr. O'Brien joined Bill Belichick's staff in New England as a coaching assistant in '07. He served as wide receivers coach the following year before taking over play-calling duties and quarterbacks coach duties in '09 when Josh McDaniels left to take the head coaching job with the Denver Broncos.

Mr. O'Brien is in his first season as the Patriots offensive coordinator.

Mr. O'Brien, who also had been courted by the Jacksonville Jaguars for their head coaching vacancy, was one of three NFL assistants known to be in the mix for the Penn State vacancy. He joined Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, 58, and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, 39.

Mr. Lewis believes Mr. O'Brien he will be a good fit for Penn State, even though he has no ties to the program or any head coaching experience at the collegiate level.

"He [will] bring the same offensive system he's running at New England to Penn State and that would really help their quarterbacks out," Mr. Lewis said Thursday.

"He's a guy who went to Brown and later came to Duke, so he understands the academic side of things. He will make sure guys graduate. He will make sure guys excel on and off the field."


Ron Musselman: rmusselman@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rmusselmanppg. First Published January 6, 2012 5:00 AM


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