Football: Bradley in charge a glimpse of PSU future?
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When Penn State coach Joe Paterno made the decision last Wednesday not to coach the team in Saturday's game against Temple, he put out a press release and explained how things would work in his absence.
There was no succession of power. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley was to coach the defense and Galen Hall the offense. Any major decisions were to be talked about among all the coaches.
But in reality, behind the scenes, there was someone who took charge, and he provided a glimpse -- at least to the Penn State players -- of what the future might hold for the program once Paterno decides to retire.
Bradley, Penn State's longest tenured assistant coach, led the team onto the field Saturday. He gave the pregame speech and did everything a head coach would do on game day.
And according to those who saw him up close, he performed quite well in the role he might assume one day.
"He did a great job leading us all week," senior linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "In instances where coach Paterno would address the team, coach Bradley took that upon himself and he did that. It was great to have him in charge of us. He just did an unbelievable job leading us all week in coach Paterno's absence. He kept us all together and stressed the points that coach Paterno would talk about and helped us get this big win."
When talk of Paterno's successor comes up, Bradley is always the first person mentioned. He is a former Penn State player and has been on Paterno's coaching staff since 1979.
Bradley made his name as a recruiter, mostly in western Pennsylvania. He brought players such as Posluszny, LaVar Arrington and Brandon Short to Penn State, among many others. He is a players' coach who develops close and lasting relationships with the players he coaches or recruits.
In the past six years he has become a household name as a defensive coordinator as he has overseen a top 20 defense the past three years.
Through it all, he has kept a self-effacing presence in the program. But on Saturday, he was the unquestioned leader.
"His pregame speech was really good," sophomore center A.Q. Shipley said. "He handled himself really well. He gave a few fiery words."
Bradley knew he was performing a special duty in speaking to the team before the game. Paterno had not missed a game since 1977, when he was absent from one to be with his son, David, who was in the hospital after an accident.
"The hard thing today for me was I had to say something to the team before we went out," Bradley said. "It was different because no one has ever talked to the team except coach Paterno. I told them I just have to talk to you from my heart. That's the only way I can communicate. I have to be me. I told them how much Joe wanted us to play well today."
Play well they did. Bradley's unit did not allow Temple past midfield. They gave up just 74 yards and two first downs. It was a thorough and complete performance from a unit that has been getting better and better as the season has progressed.
Posluszny said the team wanted to win the game for Paterno, but the players also did not want to let Bradley down. Members of the defense, especially, understood how important the game was for him.
"Coach Paterno wasn't here," Posluszny said. "Coach Bradley was in charge. He was leading the team this week. We just wanted to do things right and make sure everything went well and play a good game for both of them."
Paterno is expected to return to the team in some capacity this week. He reviewed game plans with the assistant coaches last week from his hospital room. Now that he is home, Paterno is expected to be more involved and could return to Beaver Stadium for Saturday's regular-season finale against Michigan State.
What: Michigan State (4-7 overall, 1-6 Big Ten) at Penn State (7-4, 4-3).
When: Noon, Saturday.
Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa.
TV,radio: ESPN2, WEAE-AM (1250).
The skinny: This will be the final game at Michigan State for coach John L. Smith, who was fired two weeks ago. ... Penn State running back Tony Hunt is closing in on the Lions' all-time rushing record.
First Published November 13, 2006 12:00 am