Former longtime Penn State assistant coach Tom Bradley is back on a college football staff.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Congratulations to West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck and football coach Dana Holgorsen. They didn’t make the same mistake that Pitt officials did in 2010 and 2011. West Virginia had a chance to hire former Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and got a deal done. A good coach and a good man is back where he belongs — in college football.
Bradley is West Virginia’s new senior associate head coach and will work with the team’s defensive linemen. His first day was Monday. “I don’t know the players’ names and I can’t find the team room,” Bradley said. “But at least they haven’t fired me yet.”
Bradley isn’t just a terrific defensive tactician. He brings the West Virginia program instant credibility with recruits across Pennsylvania, especially in Western Pennsylvania. He is regarded as a dynamic recruiter, among the best in the country, which isn’t good news for Pitt or Penn State, for that matter.
But Bradley’s hiring didn’t come without some controversy for West Virginia. He left his hometown, Johnstown, and went to Penn State to play for coach Joe Paterno in 1975 and never left. He worked 33 years as an assistant on the Penn State staff and, for a long time, was considered the heir apparent to Paterno. Bradley ended up serving as Penn State head coach for the final four games of the 2011 season, but the circumstances were extraordinary because Paterno had been fired as the biggest part of the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case. Bradley and most of the Penn State staff also were swept out after the season.
It was fair to ask Bradley what he knew about Sandusky and the horror he caused on the Penn State campus. Sandusky, a former Penn State defensive coordinator, was found guilty in June 2012 of 45 counts of sexually abusing 10 boys and will spend the rest of his life in prison.
“I never saw anything like that,” Bradley said. “If I had, I would have reported it …
“I never [felt blackballed]. I felt there would be other opportunities for me to coach again. I had opportunities before this, but the timing wasn’t right. I wasn’t mentally right yet.”
Bradley was a color analyst on CBS college football telecasts in 2013.
“You miss it. You miss coaching,” Bradley said. “You miss the day-to-day stuff that makes college football unique. Guys come in as freshmen and leave as seniors. You watch their growth and all of the things they go through.
“I saw this as a great opportunity. It’s great competition. I know about the West Virginia program. I coached against WVU and played against WVU.
“Plus, it’s close to my [Presto, Collier Township] home. I don’t have to disrupt my whole life having to move.”
Pitt didn’t interview Bradley after it fired Dave Wannstedt in December 2010, hiring Miami of Ohio coach Michael Haywood, who was fired after just two weeks because of a domestic-abuse arrest. Mistake No. 1. Pitt did interview Bradley after the Haywood dismissal but hired Tulsa coach Todd Graham, who left for Arizona State after just one season. Mistake No. 2.
Bradley made perfect sense for Pitt. He was endorsed not just by Paterno, but by Steelers owner Dan Rooney. There was no chance he would have left Pitt to return to Penn State. He would have put that into writing in his contract. And so what that he was a Penn State man? You might remember Bo Schembechler coached at Ohio State and ended up doing a pretty fine job at Michigan.
Bradley, 57, said he has no regrets about his career path or staying at Penn State so long without getting an opportunity to be a head coach before Paterno was fired.
“No, not at all. I had so many memorable moments there, so many players I met, so many great people. I don’t regret staying there that long at all.”
The highlight for Bradley was working with Paterno, whom he said had more impact on his life than anyone but his father.
“Joe is the greatest coach of all time. He taught so many life lessons. It wasn’t just about football. The life lessons were more important …
“I tell people I haven’t been yelled at in two years. I don’t know what to do.”
That relationship made it difficult for Bradley to replace Paterno. He did it for the players and with the blessing of Paterno and the Paterno family.
“Following Joe would have been challenging under any circumstances, but, with everything swirling around, it was very difficult,” Bradley said. “The thing I remember is the way the players hung together. They believed in each other and tried to win every game.”
Penn State lost to Nebraska, 17-14, at Beaver Stadium on senior day just three days after Paterno was fired. “With everybody back” — several hundred Penn State football letter-winners returned to show their support for the program — “it was a very emotional day,” Bradley said. “I just wish we could have pulled it off for them.”
The next week, Penn State became just the third Nittany Lions team since 1964 to win at Ohio State, beating the Buckeyes, 20-14. “That was such a good win, I was happy for the guys,” Bradley said. “It’s all about the team. The players are the ones who play.”
Penn State then lost at Wisconsin and lost to Houston in the TicketCity Bowl.
Now, after all those seasons at one school and working for one legendary coach, Bradley is starting over. He appreciates the opportunity Luck and Holgorsen are giving him.
“Sure, it’s going to be different,” Bradley said. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to be better or worse. It’s just going to be different. I’ve never put on another hat.”
WVU is on Bradley’s new hat.
West Virginia is lucky to have him.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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