STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State hired Bill O’Brien, the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator, as its head coach Friday night – the first change in leadership for the storied football program in nearly a half-century.

The announcement capped 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 also must guide a program shrouded in uncertainty. Besides the criminal investigation into Sandusky, the NCAA has launched its own inquiry.

O’Brien, 42, will be formally introduced at a news conference today.

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.

O’Brien has no apparent previous ties to Penn State.

But he does share at least one connection to Paterno – 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 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.”