New Penn State coach lauds Paterno, vows to earn alumni's trust

"I am thrilled to be the head coach of the Penn State football program," Bill O'Brien said in a statement.

Story highlights

  • Bill O'Brien acknowledges criticism of his hiring and vows to earn alumni's trust
  • He praises iconic, and recently fired, Penn State coach Joe Paterno
  • Paterno himself says that he respects O'Brien's coaching record
  • Patriots coach Bill Belichick lauds O'Brien, saying he and Penn State are a "great match"
The new coach of Penn State's embattled football program acknowledged criticism from alumni over his hiring, vowing to work to earn their trust and saluting the team's iconic former head coach Joe Paterno.
Bill O'Brien's selection as the Nittany Lions' next coach has stirred the ire of some former Penn State football players, angry that he didn't attend the university and had never before been a head coach.
He becomes the 15th head football coach in the program's 125-year history after replacing interim coach Tom Bradley, a former player and longtime coach at Penn State. Bradley himself stepped in after school trustees fired Paterno in November after he didn't go far enough in reporting an alleged child sex abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
O'Brien, most recently the offensive coordinator for the NFL's New England Patriots, said Saturday he is aware of the "controversy," though he predicted that "in time, we will find that we have more common interests and goals than not."
"We admire one's loyalties to Penn State, Penn State football, its grand tradition, coach Paterno and all his football staffs," O'Brien said. "We respectfully request the opportunity to earn your trust through communication and ... through our (shared) abilities, ethics, beliefs, work ethics and commitment to Penn State."
A riot erupted on the Pennsylvania school's campus after Paterno was dismissed, days after Sandusky was arrested and accused of sexually abusing young boys. Paterno, 84, who his family has said is being treated for lung cancer, left the program as the all-time winningest football coach in Division I history.
O'Brien said Saturday that "there will never be enough words to say what he did for this program -- as far as wins, as far as off-the-field (by) graduating student-athletes every single year." The new coach said he hadn't met yet with predecessor, but he looked "forward to that as soon as I can."
Paterno himself issued a statement Saturday, after news broke about O'Brien's selection. He referenced the fact that both men attended and played football at Brown University.
"I understand Bill O'Brien has been named head coach and I want to congratulate him on his appointment," Paterno said. "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."
Paterno defended the program under his watch, against criticisms that it made winning and control of the program the top priorities over developing student-athletes.
"Despite recent commentary to the contrary, Penn State football has always been about more than winning," he said. 'I came to Penn State with the simple but unshakeable view that this great institution could and should have a football program that is both fiercely competitive and deeply committed to education and community service.
"The proof of our success is the hundreds of former players who have graduated and gone on to become great husbands, fathers, businessmen and community leaders. I am hopeful this tradition will continue."
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick lauded O'Brien in a statement Saturday, calling him an "inspirational leader" for the team.
"Bill O'Brien has met every personal and professional challenge head on with great passion and competitiveness," Belichick said. "This is a great match between a storied program and a old-school football coach. Bill will be up to the task."
Penn State's quarterback, Matt McGloin said earlier this week that he and other players are "excited" for a "fresh start." McGloin told CNN affiliate WBRE that he hopes the selection of O'Brien will help "erase some of the things that have happened in the past year."
"It should be exciting for everyone," said McGloin, acknowledging that some Penn State alumni have voiced dissatisfaction with the move since O'Brien didn't attend the State College school. "The most important thing is that the players are happy."
The Penn State program is still reeling from the abuse allegations that surfaced this fall. Prosecutors have said that Sandusky sexually molested at least eight boys, some of them in Penn State facilities, over a 14-year period.
That includes a 2002 shower incident in which a former Penn State graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, said he saw Sandusky possibly sodomizing a boy, saying that what he saw was "extremely sexual in nature," according to grand jury testimony. He told Paterno, who told then-athletic director Tim Curley, according to a grand jury report.
Law enforcement authorities, however, didn't become aware of that allegation until years later. Curley and Gary Schultz, a university vice president who oversaw campus police, are charged with perjury and failing to report suspected child sexual abuse related to the 2002 incident.
O'Brien did not mention the sex abuse scandal in his opening remarks Saturday. He did say that the "standard for Penn State football remains very high."
"There is so much pride in Penn State, and we will never take that for granted," he said.
According to his biography on Patriots.com, the NFL team's official website, the Nittany Lions' new football coach grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
O'Brien began his coaching career at Brown, his alma mater, before going on to take jobs at Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke. He joined the Patriots in 2007 as a coaching assistant, rapidly rising up the ranks in the subsequent years.
"The Penn State football program has a great legacy and has contributed enormously to our university community," university President Rodney A. Erickson said in a statement. "A program of this caliber requires a special kind of leader -- a leader who will embrace that legacy and maintain the university's commitment to excellence on the field and in the classroom. We have that leader in Coach O'Brien, and I look forward to working with him in his new role."