Two people in the NFL with knowledge of the search told The Associated Press on Friday morning that O'Brien has told them he plans to replace fired coach Joe Paterno. Another person familiar with the search told the AP terms and details still needed to be set, and that deal could be finalized Friday night or Saturday.
The persons spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the search.
ESPN, citing unnamed sources, first reported Thursday night an official announcement would be made Saturday, and that O'Brien would remain with the Patriots as an assistant through the postseason. Two people have told the AP the report was credible.
According to a website that tracks flights, a plane registered to Penn State returned from the Boston area to State College on Friday evening. O'Brien was seen on campus with his family later in the night, including a stop at the athletic department offices at the Jordan Center.
Acting Athletic Director David Joyner declined comment on the reports about O'Brien when he arrived Friday at the team’s spacious, glass-enclosed headquarters on campus. He was scheduled to meet with the coaching staff and other officials at the program.
“I’m not going to confirm anything as I’ve always done out of respect for people,” Joyner said told reporters. “When there is something to confirm, I’ll let you know.”
By dusk, several coaches had trickled out one-by-one from the football building to head home. Each declined comment, though when asked, a couple assistants said they planned to return to work Saturday.
A person familiar with the discussion told the AP Friday evening that the assistant coaches were informed that a new head coach had been hired, and was not from the current staff, though the replacement was not identified. That person also spoke on condition of anonymity because no one was authorized to speak about the discussion.
Division I’s winningest coach with 409 victories, Paterno was fired Nov. 9 by university trustees following 46 seasons in the aftermath of child sex abuse charges against retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. O'Brien has no apparent ties to Penn State and a proud program tarnished by a scandal that also led to the departure of school President Graham Spanier.
“I understand Bill O'Brien has been named head coach and I want to congratulate him on his appointment,” Paterno said in a statement to the AP provided by his family. “I don’t know Bill, but I respect his coaching record, and I am particularly pleased we share a connection to my alma mater, Brown.”
“Despite recent commentary to the contrary, Penn State football has always been about more than winning,” Paterno added, citing what he said was the program’s commitment to education and community service. “I am hopeful this tradition will continue.”
The staff was assembled by Paterno, and most of coaches had worked for the Hall of Famer for years _ and in a couple cases, decades.
The person familiar with the search told the AP most of the current staff could be let go.