New Penn State coach Tom Bradley says he is replacing Joe Paterno with "very mixed emotions."

The defensive co-ordinator is Penn State's first coach other than Paterno in almost half a century. He was appointed interim head coach after Penn State's board of trustees fired Paterno on Wednesday night in the wake of a child sex-abuse scandal involving former assistant Jerry Sandusky.

"We're obviously in a very unprecedented situation," a sombre Bradley said Thursday morning. "I have to find a way to restore the confidence … it's with very mixed emotions and heavy hearts that we go through this."

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Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will take over the head coaching duties from Joe Paterno, who was fired by Penn State’s board of trustees on Wednesday. ((Jeff Gross/Getty Images))

Bradley, nicknamed "Scrap" for his scrappy style on special teams while a player at Penn State and known for his animated machinations on the field, showed little emotion during the half-hour news conference except when talking about Paterno, major college football's winningest coach. Paterno had announced early Wednesday he would resign at the end of the season, his 46th leading Penn State, but the board fired him, anyway.

The 55-year-old Bradley said he found out he was the new coach while watching game film Wednesday night. He called Paterno about 11 p.m. local time, but declined to say what they discussed.

"I think that's personal in nature," Bradley said.

He made clear, though, that he has great respect for the Hall of Fame coach, whose 409 victories are the most by any coach in major college football.

"Coach Paterno has meant more to me than anybody except my father," Bradley said. "… Coach Paterno will go down in history as one of the greatest men. Most of you know him as a great football coach. I've had the privilege and honour to work for him, spend time with him. He's had such a dynamic impact on so many, so many — I'll say it again — so many people and players' lives.

"It's with great respect that I speak of him, and I'm proud to say that I've worked for him."

In the days since Sandusky, Paterno's onetime heir apparent, was charged with sexually assaulting eight boys over a 15-year period, the scandal has claimed Penn State's storied coach, its president, its athletic director and a vice-president, all of whom have been criticized heavily for failing to do more to bring the alleged abuse to prosecutors' attention.

"We all have a responsibility to take care of our children. All of us," Bradley said.

Sandusky has denied the charges against him through his lawyer.

Obama's thoughts

The White House says President Obama's thoughts and prayers are with the victims of alleged child sex-abuse at Penn State University.

Presidential press secretary Jay Carney says the White House won't get into the details of the decision by the school to fire football coach Joe Paterno and force the resignation of the school's president.

Carney was asked at his daily briefing if he thought Paterno deserved to be fired.

Carney said that if the allegations involving a former assistant coach are true, then "what happened is outrageous."

Bradley replaced Sandusky

Bradley replaced Sandusky as defensive co-ordinator follog the 1999 season, and testified before the grand jury that indicted Sandusky and two other university officials. He declined several times to answer any questions about his involvement or testimony, finally saying he had been advised not to by lawyers.

Bradley's Penn State roots go back more than three decades. He went from special teams captain to graduate assistant in 1979, and has been in Happy Valley ever since. He took over as defensive co-ordinator after Sandusky resigned in 1999, and the Nittany Lions are third in the country in scoring defence (12.4 points per game) this year. They rank eighth in total defence (282.3 yards per game).

Bradley was Paterno's lead assistant on the field for the last 11 seasons, and considered the leading in-house candidate to replace his Hall of Fame boss.

"I am who I am, I'm not going to change," Bradley said. "I'm not going to pretend I'm somebody else."

Bradley grew up in Johnstown, a western Pennsylvania mining town, as the second oldest of seven kids (three boys and four girls). His father, Jim, played basketball for Pittsburgh but, like many Irish Catholics, the Bradleys' football allegiances were to Notre Dame.

The Penn State connection started with his older brother, Jim, who played defensive back for Paterno from 1973-74.

Tom played defensive back from '77-78, and his younger brother, Matt, was a linebacker from '79-81.

Bradley also encouraged students, some of whom scuffled with police Wednesday night, to act with class at Saturday's game. He also said his team, which had met earlier in the morning, would be ready to play.

Bradley acknowledged the magnitude of the job ahead of him, saying he had not slept. Asked when he might, Bradley flashed one of the few smiles of the morning.

"Do I look that bad?" he said.