Bill O'Brien inherited a Penn State program rocked by scandal, on the cusp of crippling sanctions. After two seasons, he leaves a program on stable ground after bolting for the NFL and the Houston Texans.

The school plans to act fast to find a successor.

"Our anticipation is we'll be counting this in a matter of days rather than weeks," Nittany Lions athletic director Dave Joyner said Thursday.

Defensive line coach Larry Johnson is interim coach while the search for a replacement goes on.

"This is a great opportunity to work with an owner like Mr. (Bob) McNair and an organization like the Texans," O'Brien told reporters at a Houston airport.

O'Brien was proud of his time at Penn State.

"They gave me my first opportunity to be a head coach, and I'll always thank them for that," he said. "They're great kids at Penn State."

O'Brien was the first major defection this week. Wide receiver Allen Robinson decided Thursday to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. He set school season records in catches (97) and yards receiving (1,432) for the second straight year.

As for candidates to replace O'Brien, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, Vanderbilt's James Franklin and the University of Miami's Al Golden could be at the top of the list.


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Orange Bowl: Friday in Miami marks the first game between Ohio State and Clemson since legendary Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes punched Charlie Bauman near the end of Tigers' win in the 1978 Gator Bowl. "It's obviously been something, as we've come into this game, that has been brought up 1,001 times," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

Texas: The school has expressed strong interest in Jim Mora as a replacement for Mack Brown and has met with representatives of the UCLA coach, sources told ESPN. Monday's Alamo Bowl loss to Oregon was Brown's final game at Texas after 16 years. New A.D. Steve Patterson believes Texas needs a new coach by Jan. 15. That's the end of the so-called "dead period'' in the NCAA that prohibits coaches from in-person contact with recruits during bowl season.

Oregon State: Junior Brandin Cooks of Stockton declared for the NFL draft. The Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's top receiver, Cooks set Pac-12 records with 128 catches for 1,730 yards in 2013. He consulted coach Mike Riley and the rest of the coaching staff about his decision. "They didn't try to sway me either way," Cooks said. "They were a great support."

Texas A&M: Third-year sophomore wide receiver Mike Evans, a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, is leaving for the NFL.

Troy: Defensive end Jadarius Garner, 20, was found dead on a highway after two cars allegedly ran over him. The Mississippi Highway Patrol are investigating the cause of death. Police and rescue officials from Bolivar County arrived at 2:27 a.m. after responding to a two-vehicle accident. The drivers weren't injured.

MCT Information Services contributed to this report.