Cook: Life throws a wicked, unfair curve at Bradley

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Tom Bradley is the perfect man for the Penn State football job. He isn't just familiar with the school's marvelous tradition. He has helped to build it during his 33 years on the coaching staff, most recently as interim head coach. His players love him and play hard for him. They are pushing him for the permanent position. He's fiercely loyal to them and wouldn't leave for another job if he were their head coach. He had never been a head coach before November, but he has done amazing work since Penn State and legendary coach Joe Paterno came tumbling down because of the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal.

Bradley is not going to get the Penn State job.

Let me rephrase that because strange, unbelievable things often happen in sports:

I'll be shocked if Bradley gets the job.

That should be great news for Pitt. Bradley also is the perfect man for their coaching job. He should have gotten it in January when Todd Graham was named coach. I remember pushing him hard. It just made too much sense. He could have cleaned up the mess after the firing of Dave Wannstedt in early December and the hiring of Michael Haywood in mid-December and his firing Jan. 1 after an alleged domestic abuse case in Indiana. He would have brought much-needed stability to a program in disarray. He would not have left for another job after one season, which, you might have heard, happens from time to time. He long has been a premier recruiter, especially in Western Pennsylvania. He's a brilliant defensive tactician. All of those things still apply now that Graham has left for Arizona State, leaving the Pitt program in even greater disarray.

I'll be shocked if Bradley gets the job.

Penn State needs a total break from the Paterno era. This was true before news of the Sandusky scandal broke. Bradley knew he wasn't going to get the job, post-Paterno. That's why he went after the Pitt job so hard in January.

What has to be sad for Bradley is that his coaching stock never has been higher, if we're talking just football. He long will be remembered for taking over the 2011 Penn State team during the biggest scandal in college or pro sports history. The iconic Paterno was fired because of what he might have known about Sandusky's alleged sexual abuse of boys and perhaps because of what he didn't do about it. "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more," Paterno said in statement shortly before his dismissal ended his 62-year run at Penn State.

The national media spotlight on Penn State was blinding.

Through that overwhelming scrutiny, Bradley kept the Penn State team together, kept it focused and kept it on task. There were no reports of player disciplinary problems. Penn State lost a tough game at home against Nebraska and became just the third Penn State team since 1964 to win at Ohio State before getting blown out on the road by a superior Wisconsin team.

No coach could have done a better job under the circumstances.

But you can't just talk football when Bradley is concerned. His situation is much more complicated. He worked with Sandusky and was promoted to replace him as Penn State's defensive coordinator in 2000. He was on Paterno's staff for all those years.

And Paterno was fired because of the Sandusky case?

You've heard of guilt by association?

I'm not saying it's necessarily fair. I don't believe it is in Bradley's case, but that doesn't matter. Life isn't always fair.

You've heard that perception is reality?

The next Pitt coach is going to face tough questions as it is at his introductory news conference.

"Do you have any intentions of being involved in a domestic abuse case any time soon? ... Are you planning on staying more than one year? ... Are you going to just talk a big game or do you plan on actually, you know, winning games?"

Can you imagine the questions for Bradley if he would get the Pitt job?

"How well did you know Jerry Sandusky? ... Did you ever suspect he might be sexually abusing young boys in the football facilities? ... Did you hear whispers over the years that he was? ... If you did, do you wish you had done more to stop him and the alleged abuse?"

You get the idea.

That's not exactly the healing, feel-good news conference Pitt will be looking to have with its next coaching hire. Pitt will not allow that to happen.

Let me rephrase again:

I'll be shocked if Pitt allows that to happen.

By the way, Bradley was asked those questions or similar ones when he was named interim coach at Penn State. He declined to answer, citing the ongoing investigation of Sandusky. That was the right position to take legally. It was the only position, actually. But it left people with no choice but to speculate about what he might have known about Sandusky. A lot of the speculation wasn't kind to Bradley.

You know what they say, right?

I'll repeat: Perception is reality. Life isn't always fair.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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