STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Bill O'Brien calls it an honor to follow the late Joe Paterno as Penn State's next head coach.
In an interview Monday in the same corner office that once belonged to the man known in State College as JoePa, O'Brien said he will forge his own coaching identity and that no one will ever replace Paterno, who won 409 games and two national championships.
Paterno died Sunday at age 85, a little over two months after his son, Scott, said his father had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
O'Brien never got to speak with Paterno in person following his hiring on Jan. 7.
The two did talk by phone soon after O'Brien arrived. O'Brien said he wanted Paterno to know he would preserve the Penn State traditions of winning and emphasizing academics.
"It wasn't a long conversation, but at the end it was pretty neat. I just wanted to make sure he knew that I was going to work very hard to keep it going here," O'Brien said.
O'Brien's still working at his old job, too — as offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots. He's traveling between Foxborough, Mass., and Happy Valley juggling duties.
O'Brien most recently arrived back in State College on Monday, and he plans to join his players for a viewing for Paterno on Tuesday before returning to New England on Wednesday night.
"To me, it's an honor to follow a guy like Coach Paterno," O'Brien said.