STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State has hired New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien as its head coach, the first change in leadership for the storied football program in nearly a half-century.
The announcement caps a turbulent two-month period that began with the firing of Hall of Famer Joe Paterno on Nov. 9 in the aftermath of child sex abuse charges against retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
Not only is O'Brien replacing Division I's winningest coach, but he must also guide a program shrouded in uncertainty. Besides the criminal investigation into Sandusky, the NCAA has launched its own inquiry.
The 42-year-old O'Brien was set to be formally announced at a news conference Saturday morning.
Penn State hadn't hired a head football coach in 46 seasons. In between, the 85-year-old Paterno won 409 games and was elected to the Hall of Fame.
"I am thrilled to be the head coach of the Penn State football program," O'Brien said in a statement. "As head coach of this special football program, it is my responsibility to ensure that this program represents the highest level of character, respect and integrity in everything we do."
He said that encompassed coaches, players and anyone else involved in the 125-year-old football program.
"There is tremendous pride in Penn State football and (we) will never, ever take that for granted," O'Brien said.
This was O'Brien's first year coordinating the Patriots' high-scoring offense, but he has also coached star quarterback Tom Brady since 2009 and spent 2008 coaching receivers.
O'Brien recently was in the spotlight when he and Brady got into a heated argument, shown on national television, after Brady threw an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter of the Patriots' 34-27 win over the Washington Redskins on Dec. 11.
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 had just 12 interceptions.
Brady has described O'Brien as a great coach and friend. Receiver Julian Edelman on Friday in Foxborough described O'Brien as charismatic and emotional.
"We have found the man to take Penn State football forward," acting athletic director David Joyner said. "Needless to say, we have been looking for someone with some very special qualities, beginning with a heart that beats to the values and vision of Penn State University and our Penn State football legacy and tradition."
O'Brien has no apparent ties to Penn State and a proud program tarnished by a scandal that also led to the departure of president Graham Spanier.
O'Brien and Paterno do share at least one connection though -- both coaches attended Brown University.
"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 Associated Press 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."
Penn State interim head coach Tom Bradley told ESPN's John Barr that he met one-on-one with Joyner, who told him they decided to go in a different direction.
Asked if he would remain on the staff, Bradley said he's had other offers. In reflecting on his short time at the helm of Penn State, he said: "I have learned more in 55 days than most people learn in a coaching career. I'm better for it."
Earlier Friday, Bradley's attorney, Rich Puleo, said the interim coach had been fired by Penn State, a report Bradley refuted.
"I am not fired by Penn State," Bradley said. "I am still an employee of Penn State University, still a member of the staff -- everybody is on the staff until (O'Brien) decides who he wants to keep on his staff."
Bradley, who took over for Paterno on an interim basis after serving as defensive coordinator, 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.
Former Penn State All-American linebacker Brandon Short told ESPN.com senior writer Don Van Natta Jr. that members of the influential Lettermen's Club had a meeting with Joyner on Friday.
"It's unfortunate that Coach O'Brien ... has not been made aware of the implications of him being in this position," said Short, an investment banker. "I don't envy him at all. He doesn't have support of the vast majority of former Penn State players and the vast majority of the student body and the faculty won't support him. I feel sorry for him."
Short said some members of the group were considering a range of options to express their displeasure, including asking current players to transfer and recruits to de-commit.
Short told USA Today they were mulling a lawsuit in an effort to bar Penn State from using their likenesses or images for marketing purposes.
"It appears as if it is Dave Joyner's intent to disassociate himself with everything related Penn State," Short told ESPN.com. "Then a group of former players will now disassociate ourselves from everything related to Penn State."
Former Penn State running back D.J. Dozier also said he was upset to hear about O'Brien's hiring, but also tempered his comments because of the high praise coming from Brady.
"I don't know much about O'Brien -- when you read quotes like the one from Tom Brady about what kind of coach he is, that's a pretty strong endorsement from one of the best quarterbacks in football, or the best quarterback in football," Dozier told ESPN.com's Van Natta Jr.
Kerry Collins, who quarterbacked Penn State's undefeated 1994 squad, released a statement calling upon fellow Penn State lettermen to support the new hire.
"Much is being said about the hiring of Bill O'Brien as the next football coach at Penn State. I do not know him. I have never met him nor been coached by him. One thing I do know is that I will support him and I call on all Penn State football lettermen to do the same," Collins wrote. "Whether you agree or disagree with his hiring, we should support him. Instead of chastising him for not being a Penn Stater, let's show him what it means to be a Penn Stater. Coach O'Brien is faced with the daunting task of resurrecting our beloved, yet bruised program. Let's support him in any way we can."
Current Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin supported the O'Brien hiring.
"I am excited about the hiring and some of the players I have spoken with are excited as well," McGloin said. "I am anxious to get spring ball started and am ready for a fresh start. I think Coach O'Brien will lead us in the right direction and am looking forward to working with someone who has a lot of experience with quarterbacks. I think it is a great hire and a great thing for Penn State football."
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 after the offense struggled with a two-quarterback system.
Information from ESPN.com senior writer Don Van Natta Jr. and The Associated Press was used in this report.