Joe Paterno publicly congratulated Bill O'Brien on being Penn State's new head football coach one hour before even university officials confirmed it Friday night.
That unusual passing of the guard served as an end to one of the most unusual, drawn-out, secretive coaching searches in college football history.
ESPN broke the news at about 10 p.m. Thursday that O'Brien, the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator, would be named Paterno's successor. In the 24 hours that followed, school officials remained tight-lipped and refused to discuss details of the coaching search.
At 8:43 p.m. Friday, The Associated Press released a story including a statement issued by the Paterno family that confirmed the hiring.
"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.
"Despite recent commentary to the contrary, Penn State football has always been about more than winning," Paterno added. "I am hopeful this tradition will continue."
Bill O'Brien's coaching resume
* Brown (1993 tight ends, 1994 linebackers)
* Georgia Tech (1995-97 offensive graduate assistant; 1998-00 running backs; 2001 offensive coordinator, quarterbacks; 2002 assistant head coach)
* Maryland (2003-04 running backs)
* Duke (2005-06 offensive coordinators, quarterbacks)
* New England (2007 offensive assistant; 2008 receivers; 2009-10 quarterbacks; 2011 offensive coordinator, quarterbacks)
Then, 61 minutes later, the historic news about the biggest hire in Penn State history was made official in a tweet by university spokesman Jeff Nelson. The tweet read: "#PennState Names Bill O'Brien 15th Head Football Coach in Storied 125-Year History of Program."
That storied history was tainted two months ago by the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal, which led to Paterno's firing on Nov. 9 during his 46th season as head coach.
Acting athletic director Dave Joyner was brought in to replace Tim Curley, who was placed on administrative leave after being charged with perjury in the Sandusky scandal. Joyner has been in charge of the search committee for the new football coach, and the process spilled into its 58th day Friday.
Now, finally, Penn State has its man.
"We have found the man to take Penn State football forward," Joyner said in a university statement.
O'Brien, 42, arrived in State College by plane Friday night with his family and will be introduced at a news conference today at 11:30 a.m.
"I am thrilled to be the head coach of the Penn State football program," O'Brien said in the PSU statement. "I cannot tell you how excited I am to get started, meet the team, meet the football alumni and meet all of the people that make this university so special."
Lifelong Penn Stater Tom Bradley, one of the people fans have always viewed as a special part of the university, had been serving as the interim head coach since Paterno was fired. He and the assistant coaches met with Joyner at 4 p.m. Friday, and Bradley refuted a report by ESPN that he had been fired by PSU.
"Yeah, I'm on the staff," Bradley told the Mirror. "No one got terminated. ... They told me I'm not going to be the next head coach. That's what they told me."
Bradley, upbeat and energetic as always during a 10-minute phone conversation, did say this about O'Brien: "I don't know him at all. I've never met him. I'm excited to meet him, and I wish him good luck."
While Bradley and the other assistants remain on the staff for now, they have no guarantees, and their futures will be decided by O'Brien.
"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," O'Brien said in the university statement. "That includes my coaching staff, our players and everyone involved in the football program. There is tremendous pride in Penn State football and will [sic] never, ever take that for granted."
Penn State President Rodney Erickson said the university needs "a special kind of leader" and noted in the press release that "we have that leader in Coach O'Brien."
News of the O'Brien hire was met with wildly mixed reaction Friday (see story on Page B1). As many Penn State fans and former players criticized the decision, those familiar with O'Brien's work in the NFL praised the move.
Former New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi said on an ESPN broadcast that critics of the hire will "choke on their words," figuring O'Brien will have a lot of success at Penn State.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft told the Boston Herald, "Billy is a very high-quality guy. He's got integrity, he's honest and I'm sad to see him go."
O'Brien will continue to coach the Patriots through the playoffs. He has never been a head coach at any level and spent the first 14 years of his coaching career in college before joining the Patriots in 2007.
O'Brien is in his first season as New England's offensive coordinator and his third as the team's quarterbacks coach, working with superstar Tom Brady.
News first broke about O'Brien possibly coming to Penn State last weekend. Asked about that possibility Sunday, Brady said, "I hope he's there for a long time."
He likely won't be there as long as Paterno was - 61 years - but O'Brien's college coach at Brown believes he can be very successful at Penn State.
"Billy makes an impact," former Brown coach Mickey Kwiatkowski said. "He's got drive, he's got dignity, he's got class, he knows right from wrong, he's solid in his thinking, he's moral, he's a family man. He really is a special, special young man."