- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien will be Penn State’s first new head football coach in nearly a half-century, according to multiple reports.

ESPN, citing unnammed sources, first reported Thursday night that an official announcement would be made Saturday, and that O'Brien would continue on as an assistant with the Patriots the rest of the postseason.

Penn State coaches contacted by The Associated Press said they had not received any word late Thursday night about O'Brien or anything else related to the two-month long search to replace Hall of Famer Joe Paterno. The Nittany Lions’ leader for 46 seasons was fired Nov. 9 in the aftermath of child sex abuse charges against retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

O'Brien has no apparent ties to Penn State, rocked by a scandal that also led the departure of school president Graham Spanier.

A Patriots spokesperson declined comment. Penn State athletics spokesman Jeff Nelson cited department policy to not comment on reports to “protect the integrity of the search.”

O'Brien interviewed on Thursday, his agent said. In fact, Joe Linta told The Associated Press, earlier Thursday, that O'Brien was “flattered by the interest.”

USA Today first reported that O'Brien was scheduled to interview, citing an unidentified person with knowledge of the situation.

This was O'Brien’s first year coordinating the Patriots‘ high-scoring offense, but he coached star quarterback Tom Brady since 2009. He spent 2008 coaching receivers.

“He’s been a great coach and friend. We have a great relationship; probably a very unique relationship in that we communicate all the time,” Brady said Sunday about O'Brien. “I always enjoy working with him and he’s done an incredible job with this team and this offense.”

The Patriots are off this week, and will host a divisional round playoff game next weekend. They went 13-3 this season, won the AFC East championship going away, and secured the conference’s No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs.

New England closed the regular season on an eight-game winning streak, and scored 513 points, the most in the AFC. Brady threw for 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns, while being picked off just 12 times.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Brady said when asked if he would miss O'Brien’s coaching. “I hope he’s here for a long time and I told him that too.”

O'Brien first joined New England in 2007 following 14 seasons on the collegiate level, including stops at Duke, Maryland and Georgia Tech. He played college football at Brown _ Paterno’s alma mater.

Paterno, Division I’s winningest coach with 409 victories, coached 46 seasons before being ousted by trustees.

Penn State officials had termed the search “methodical and deliberate.” Acting athletic director David Joyner had said he would like to give Paterno’s replacement at least a few weeks to recruit before high school seniors can begin to announce their official intentions to attend college on Feb. 1.

Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who took over for Paterno on an interim basis, also interviewed. Bradley was on the road recruiting Thursday, the second of a four-day recruiting contact period. Another 16-day contact window starts Jan. 13.

“I believe the search is continuing and progressing very well as we hoped it would,” Joyner said during a taped segment at halftime of the radio broadcast of Thursday night’s basketball game between Purdue and Penn State. “I anticipate having a new head coach in place in time to take full advantage of the open period that’s coming up.”

Calls and emails of interest from qualified potential applicants were still coming in, Joyner said during the segment.

Defensive line coach Larry Johnson also received an interview. Two persons with knowledge of the search also confirmed earlier reports that Paterno’s son, quarterback coach Jay Paterno, interviewed for the job. The persons requested anonymity because no one was authorized to speak about the search.

San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman interviewed in November and his agent said this week he was on the “short list” for the job.

Among other rumored names, Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak denied interest in the job three times since his former coach was fired. And Green Bay quarterbacks coach Tom Clements declined comment when asked if he was interested in the job and would not confirm a report that he had interviewed.

The Patriots are third in the NFL overall in scoring (32.1 points per game), and second in total offense (428 yards) and passing (317.8 yards).

Penn State finished a 9-4 campaign with a 30-14 loss in the TicketCity Bowl to Houston on Jan. 2. The Nittany Lions relied on defense much of the year this after the offense struggled with a two-quarterback system.