By The Associated Press
DALLAS — Penn State insists it doesn’t have a leading candidate in its nearly two-month long search for a football coach.
USA Today and ESPN reported Sunday that New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien is the top contender for the Nittany Lions job.
At a Penn State pep rally Sunday outside the Cotton Bowl, Acting Athletic Director David Joyner cut off a reporter’s question about the reports and said, “No, don’t believe anything you read in the newspapers. I was taught that long time ago.”
He answered “No,” when asked if anyone could be classified as a leading candidate.
The program has been without a permanent head coach since Nov. 9, when university trustees fired Hall of Famer Joe Paterno in the aftermath of child sex abuse charges against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. He is awaiting trial and pleaded not guilty after waiving a preliminary court hearing last month.
Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who has been leading the team on an interim basis, has interviewed for the job. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson is also among the candidates who have interviewed.
Otherwise, the search has been the subject of a seemingly endless stream of rumors and speculation. Joyner last week said he hoped to have a replacement in time to allow for roughly three weeks to recruit before high school seniors can announce their college choices Feb. 1.
“We haven’t hired anybody yet, the search committee is still working on it,” President Rodney Erickson said at the pep rally. “We’re taking our time in a very deliberative kind of fashion.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichek declined comment about the reports on O’Brien following New England’s 49-21 victory Sunday over Buffalo in Foxborough.
Quarterback Tom Brady called O’Brien a great coach and friend. “I don’t what’s going to happen,” Brady said. “I hope he’s here for a long time and I told him that, too.”
The outgoing Bradley, an assistant for more than three decades, appears to have the backing of some former players, alumni and donors. A smiling Bradley hugged Joyner as he left the rally while fans chanted his name. One backer held up a handwritten sign that read “Tom Bradley is our coach. We R Loyal!!”
Robert Harrison, the president of a private investment management who said he has donated more than $250,000 to Penn State, has been a vocal proponent for Bradley. Alumni have been fractured by the charges against Sandusky and its wide-ranging impact on the university, he said.
“Step (hash) 1 to bring us back together is to hire Tom Bradley as the head coach of Penn State football team,” Harrison wrote in an email Sunday to Joyner and Erickson.