ESPN, citing unnamed sources, first reported Thursday night that an official announcement would be made Saturday, and that O’Brien would continue 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, which has rocked by a scandal that also led to the departure of school President Graham Spanier.
A Patriots spokesman declined to 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. 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 has he coached Tom Brady since 2009 and spent 2008 coaching receivers.
Some former players have expressed concern at the process by which O’Brien was chosen to replace Paterno. As Cindy Boren explained:
LaVar Arrington, a former Penn State player and Washington Post contributor, was livid over the fact that the hire came from outside the football family. Arrington had backed the permanent hiring of interim coach Tom Bradley.
“I will put my Butkus [Award] in storage. I will put my Alamo Bowl MVP trophy in storage,” Arrington said, via Rivals.com. “Jerseys, anything Penn State, in storage. Wherever Tom Bradley goes, that's the school I will start to put memorabilia up in my home. I'm done. I'm done with Penn State. If they're done with us, I'm done with them.”
Bradley, 55, is a Penn State graduate and a long-time assistant who succeeded Sandusky as defensive coordinator. He replaced Paterno on Nov. 9 and coached the team to a 1-3 finish.
“By these people making the decisions the way that they are making them, basically coinciding with everything that's being written about our university, if they get rid of Tom Bradley, that means they in essence have accepted the fact that we are all guilty,” Arrington said. “You might as well call it all the same thing. “
Brandon Short, an All-American linebacker who now is an investment banker, told ESPN that the Lettermen’s Club has a meeting with acting athletic director Dave Joyner at 1 p.m. EST today. He told USA Today that he and some members of the Lettermen’s Club are upset with Dave Joyner, interim athletic director and chairman of the search committee, over a hiring process that did not include their input.
“Penn State is a family and it is real and if they choose to get rid of Bradley and not hire a Penn State coach, then they've turned their backs on our entire family,” Short said.
O’Brien was in the national spotlight earlier in the Patriots season when he and quarterback Tom Brady got into a heated argument caught on camera during a game. As AP reported:
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.
“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.”
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