UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien was introduced Saturday as the 15th football coach in Penn State's 125-year history before a large crowd at the Nittany Lion Inn, seven blocks from Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno's house.
O'Brien received a five-year deal worth a guaranteed $2.3 million per season to succeed Paterno, according to the university. His incentives cannot exceed $200,000 per year, meaning he could earn as much as $2.5 million.
The contract, finalized Friday, includes a $950,000 base salary, $1 million in TV/radio compensation and $350,000 from the school's Nike contract.
"I really believe we got the man we wanted to do the job," said Ira Lubert, a Penn State Board of Trustees member who was part of methodical two-month search. "People just need to give him a chance."
O'Brien, 42, replaces Paterno, who was 39 when he was hired Feb. 19, 1966, to replace Rip Engle. Paterno's base salary was $1.02 million last year, but Penn State never released his additional earnings or outside endorsement deals.
Paterno, the winningest coach in major college history with 409 victories, was fired Nov. 9 in wake of the child sex abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Paterno was replaced by interim head coach Tom Bradley, who was released from his duties Friday, shortly after O'Brien's hiring was confirmed by Penn State officials.
"What a special program it is," O'Brien said. "It's unbelievable. I'm really thrilled to be the head football coach at Penn State. ... I'm the leader of this family now. I can't wait to get going on this, get everyone headed in the right direction."
O'Brien, who will remain with the New England Patriots as offensive coordinator throughout the NFL playoffs, said he will assemble his coaching staff over the next "two or three days" and get them on the road for the open recruiting period that begins Friday. Penn State, 9-4 in 2011, has 14 verbal commitments for the recruiting class of 2012, but a handful of recruits are wavering.
One of O'Brien's first moves was to retain defensive line coach Larry Johnson, an excellent recruiter. O'Brien also plans to interview other staff members, but he made no promises about keeping them.
"I had some opportunities, but I knew this is where I wanted to be," said Johnson, who attended the news conference. "This is my passion. This is my love. We're going to heal from this and we're going to restore the roar."
O'Brien, who plans to meet with his team for the first time at 5 p.m. today at the Lasch Football Building, had words of praise for Paterno, 85, who is fighting lung cancer and recovering from a broken pelvis.
"There will never be enough words to say what he did for this program," O'Brien said. "I can't wait to meet him. ... I'm not here to be Joe Paterno. There's only one Joe Paterno. What I'm going to try to do is be Bill O'Brien."
O'Brien, known to be a bit standoffish with Boston reporters, played a key role as New England built a 13-3 record to earn a first-round bye and the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs behind quarterback Tom Brady.
"This is a great match between a storied program and an old-school football coach," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Saturday in a statement. "Bill will be up to the task and I couldn't be happier for him."
O'Brien was an assistant coach at his alma mater, Brown, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke, but he has no experience as a head coach.
John Nichols, a member of the six-person search committee in charge of finding Paterno's replacement, said O'Brien was contacted by Penn State officials early in the search process.
His stock might have risen after Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak rejected the committee's final plea to return from the NFL to his alma mater.
Nichols said he spoke with O'Brien three times, once by Skype. Nichols also said that acting athletic director Dave Joyner talked to Belichick about O'Brien "four times."
"We found the right man to lead our football program," university president Rodney Erickson said Saturday. "He's a person of great integrity, leadership and skill."
"This is a very important hire for Penn State for many reasons," Joyner said.
Many former Penn State players, however, criticized the hiring, citing the fact O'Brien has no Penn State ties. O'Brien said he sent a letter to them, saying he hopes they eventually learn to trust him.
Bradley, a former Penn State player who had been a member of the coaching staff for 33 years, offered his support for O'Brien in a statement.
"I wish coach O'Brien all the best," said Bradley, who also interviewed for the opening. "No matter the challenges that the university may face, Penn State will always have my support. This is forever my home and forever my family. It is important that we come together to support our players and our university. Now is the time to demonstrate that we are -- and always will be -- Penn State."
Ron Musselman: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rmusselmanppg. First Published January 8, 2012 5:00 AM