UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien, Penn State's new football coach, has moved into the office once occupied by the late Joe Paterno at the Lasch Football Building.
Tuesday morning, after an early morning team workout, O'Brien accompanied his players to Paterno's private, closed-casket viewing at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on campus. Paterno, 85, died Sunday of complications from lung cancer.
"I went to the viewing with our team [Tuesday] morning, and that was special," O'Brien told a handful of Penn State beat writers Tuesday during a wide-ranging, 45-minute interview in his new office. "I got to pay my respects to the family and talked to Mrs. [Sue] Paterno briefly. She's a special lady and having a tough day.
"I don't personally know them, but you could tell there was a lot of warmth in that family, and they were very nice to me in accepting my condolences to them.
"I shared something with her that I will keep between her and I. It was a nice moment."
O'Brien, who had a brief telephone conversation with the Hall of Fame coach three days after he was hired Jan. 6 as Paterno's successor, also addressed the Penn State Football Letterman's Club Tuesday during a luncheon at Beaver Stadium.
"I was just thrilled to see that there were over 800 guys in the room," O'Brien said. "It seemed like every guy [Paterno] coached was back here today. It's a sad day for Penn State. It's a sad day for the coaching profession."
O'Brien, 42, said he has a plan for dealing with the child sex abuse scandal involving former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, which cost Paterno his job Nov. 9.
"I'm to attack it this way -- we were not here then, we're here now," O'Brien said. "There are special, important people here at the university who are in charge of that issue and that investigation. It has nothing to do with us.
"We're a proud football program. It's a new era of Penn State football that's going to have certain traditions that have been here in the past and then we're going to create our own traditions."
O'Brien, who received a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $2.3 million per season from Penn State, is doing double duty as offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots and as head coach of the Nittany Lions.
He realizes the huge challenge ahead with the Nittany Lions, given the Sandusky scandal and the fact he is replacing Paterno, the winningest coach in major-college football history with 409 wins in 46 seasons.
"Following a man like coach Paterno ... there's always going to be naysayers," he said. "There's always going to be people who say, 'Who is this guy?' I mean, I probably would be one of them. I understand that."
O'Brien was an assistant coach at the college level for 14 seasons, working at Brown, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke before joining coach Bill Belichick's New England staff in 2007 as an offensive assistant.
Now, O'Brien is recruiting for the first time in five years.
He arrived in town Monday and will return to Foxborough, Mass., tonight to begin preparations for the Feb. 5 Super Bowl against the New York Giants.
O'Brien plans to hire his ninth and final full-time assistant -- likely a quarterbacks coach -- after the Super Bowl.
The new Nittany Lions coach also covered a number of other topics:
• His telephone conversation with Paterno, also a Brown graduate: "I'll tell you what was neat, you could tell we shared a lot of the same beliefs, belief in a tough football team and a smart football team. I was just very, very grateful to have that opportunity to talk to him."
• His offensive system at Penn State: "It's going to be the Patriots offense. I'm going to be heavily involved with the offense. ... You can't put a label on it. It's not East Coast. It is a very unique offense and it takes smart, instinctive players to play in it. What we do in New England, it's all about the players. We have a very smart quarterback [Tom Brady]. It's a fun offense to be a part of once you learn it.
"As to whether I will call plays, it's something I'm going to meet with the offensive staff about, and we'll go from there."
• Penn State landed its fifth recruit Tuesday since Paterno died. Georgia quarterback Steven Bench became the 18th member of the 2012 class after de-committing from Rice. National signing day is Feb. 1.
O'Brien said Penn State will focus its future recruiting efforts within a 500-mile radius of Pennsylvania, but he also said the Nittany Lions would recruit in Georgia, Florida and Texas.
"We got to do a great job in Pennsylvania," O'Brien said. "Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, we've got to be the best we can to out-recruit anybody that comes in this state. We're a state university. We want guys to come here where their parents can come and watch them play, their state can cheer for them."
• On new strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald, hired from South Carolina. "Strength and conditioning in college football at the Division I level is one of the most important roles anyone can have in the program," O'Brien said.
"So, I went out and hired a guy I think is really the best strength coach in the country."
Ron Musselman: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rmusselmanppg. First Published January 25, 2012 5:00 AM