UNIVERSITY PARK - Bill O'Brien walked up to the podium, gazed out over a large crowd of media and school supporters and expressed - in three simple words - what becoming Penn State's new head football coach means to him.
"This is unbelievable," he said.
Those were the first words most Penn State fans had ever heard O'Brien speak. They also were the first words spoken by a permanent Nittany Lion head football coach other than Joe Paterno since 1965, back when the average house cost $21,000 and the average car just $2,650.
Paterno made $20,000 his first season in 1966, while O'Brien has a five-year contract that will guarantee him $2.3 million per season.
The 42-year-old Massachusetts native also now has one of the marquee jobs in college football, albeit one that has lost some of its luster the past two months in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
None of the luster, however, appears to be lost for O'Brien.
Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich
Bill O’Brien, Penn State’s new head football coach, takes questions from the media after the announcement of his hiring Saturday.
"What a special program it is," he said before later adding, "There is so much pride in Penn State, and we will never, ever take that for granted. Ever."
The school searched 58 days to find Paterno's successor, and there was no shortage of speculation that many potential candidates weren't interested in the job. Acting athletic director Dave Joyner said that wasn't the case and insisted O'Brien was the guy almost all along.
"Bill O'Brien was my first choice and the [search] committee's first choice, and it was a unanimous decision," said Joyner, who noted O'Brien first appeared on the school's radar about a week into the search.
Penn State's basic uniforms have become a staple of the program, and new coach Bill O'Brien had this to say about fans worried he might want to put names on the back of jerseys or do something else different:
"I've been asked about a million times. We're not changing the uniforms," O'Brien said.
Given that O'Brien's name didn't surface in any media reports until one week ago - a sign of how quiet the search committee kept things - Joyner was asked what he would tell people who don't believe him about O'Brien being the first choice.
"They get to think what they want, but we did not offer the job to any other person," he said. "Sure, some people weren't interested, but very few people that we talked to were not interested in having this job. And Coach O'Brien is the only person that we offered this job to."
Joyner and Penn State President Rodney Erickson both spoke briefly Saturday about why they hired O'Brien, who's in his first season as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots and fifth season with the team.
"We found the right man to lead our football program," Erickson said. "He's a person of great integrity, leadership and skill."
He's also a strong family man, which O'Brien demonstrated about one minute into his opening speech as the first person he thanked was his wife, Colleen.
"She's the brains behind the operation," he said.
O'Brien followed up that line by showing his sense of humor as he mixed family and football.
"I have a pretty good idea how to recruit," he said of his wife.
O'Brien's 6-year-old son, Michael, was actually the first member of the family to enter the ballroom at the Nittany Lion Inn. He came in wearing a blue No. 25 PSU jersey - representing running back Silas Redd - and posed with pictures along with his mom.
The O'Briens have another son, 9-year-old Jack, who was not with the family Saturday. The New York Times reported that Jack O'Brien was born with lissencephaly, a rare brain malformation that leads to developmental disability.
O'Brien, a Brown alum like Paterno, said he grew up watching and admiring Penn State football and said he "can't wait" to meet JoePa.
"There will never be enough words to say what he did for this program," O'Brien said.
O'Brien follows in the footsteps of a legendary college coach after working for one of the most successful coaches in NFL history, New England's Bill Belichick. O'Brien was a college assistant for 14 years before joining Belichick's staff in 2007.
O'Brien will stay on as the Patriots' offensive coordinator throughout the NFL playoffs as the team tries to win its fourth Super Bowl. He plans to have his coaching staff at Penn State in place in two or three days and will do as much work as he can getting himself established with the Lions while also juggling his NFL duties.
"Over the course of his long coaching career, Bill O'Brien has met every personal and professional challenge head-on with great passion and competitiveness," Belichick said in a statement Saturday. "I expect Bill to draw on his deep background in college football and the NFL to continue attracting and developing top players."
Belichick praised O'Brien's work with Tom Brady and the team's other quarterbacks and added, "This is a great match between a storied program and [an] old-school football coach."
The Penn State players are arriving back on campus this weekend for the spring semester, and O'Brien plans to hold a team meeting at 5 p.m. today before heading back to New England.
"I can't wait to get started doing that," he said of meeting the players.
O'Brien and Joyner both declined to answer questions about who contacted whom first in the coaching search. Joyner, who said he had several discussions with O'Brien, fielded a number of questions about why the process took so long and noted, "We took our time on purpose."
"It's been said that people ran away from this job," said Joyner, who refuted that and mentioned there was a lot of interest from what he called "very, very, very high-level" candidates.
Joyner did not go into the process with any preconceived notion about hiring someone with or without Penn State ties.
"They had to have a Penn State heart and [be] somebody that believed in the program and the ideals that have come before," Joyner said.
Joyner and the search committee drew criticism for taking so long, but he said of O'Brien, "I feel confident that he's the right person for the job."
O'Brien would not discuss specifics about how the Sandusky scandal impacted his interest in the job but did point out there were a lot of tough questions asked by both him and Joyner about the past and future of Penn State.
O'Brien has been hired at a critical point in history for both the football program and the university, and because he's never been a head coach at any level, many have wondered: Why him?
One of his answers - just nine simple words - may have described it best.
"I believe in myself. I believe in Penn State," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and @CoryGiger on Twitter.