Bradley loyal to Penn State

Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010

Tom Bradley hears the chatter.

Entering his 11th season as Penn State's defensive coordinator and his 32nd as a Nittany Lions assistant, Bradley, 54, is considered the favorite to replace Joe Paterno as head coach whenever the job becomes open.

"Obviously, it's on his mind," said Jim Bradley, Tom's older brother and the Steelers' orthopedic surgeon for the past 19 years. "He gets contacted by a lot of people. He has turned down positions, but he does not talk about it due to respect and general decorum. It's like dating a girl and talking about it. It is not acceptable behavior."

Dennis Dodd, a college football writer for, said Nittany Lions fans should hope the next Penn State coach comes from within the current staff. Bradley has been part of it since 1979.

"He is a great recruiter, a great coordinator," Dodd said. "People in the industry know exactly who he is. He is not a rock-star coordinator, but he is like the Penn State uniforms. He is solid and consistent."

Penn State athletic director Tim Curley said university officials have had discussions about the future of the program when Paterno, 83, retires, but he refused to provide details. He said there is no plan to name a successor before the fact, such as Florida State did when Jimbo Fisher was named the successor two years before Bobby Bowden's last game.

"We are taking the position that is not the best way to go," said Curley, who added that he fielded his first question about Paterno's future in 1983.

Paterno won't be able to name his successor, but his input will be part of the process, Curley said.

"He certainly should be at the table and have those discussions with us," he said.

Amid all the questions, Bradley has one of his own:

"Who wouldn't want to be the head coach at Penn State?" he rhetorically has asked when the subject arises.

Leader of the pack

Bradley's ability and accomplishments are well-chronicled. Penn State has ranked among the top 15 in the nation in scoring and total defense during each of the past six seasons.

A football, basketball and track star at Bishop McCort High School, Bradley was the second of seven children born to Johnstown cardiologist Sam Bradley and his wife Cass. Jim Bradley remembers that Tom always had waves of friends at the house.

"He was the leader of the gang, from an early age," he said.

Bradley graduated from Penn State in 1979 after playing defensive back (1975-1978), just like Jim. He immediately joined Paterno's staff as a graduate assistant and never left.

Before taking over the defense, Bradley mentored five positions — special teams (16 seasons), defensive ends, wide receivers, outside linebackers and defensive backs - and was the recruiting coordinator in 1984-85.

He laughed when asked if he is a Penn State lifer.

"I am happy where I am — I like it," he said. "I don't think being a head coach will define me. It is a great place for me to work, and working for coach Paterno, I really enjoy it."

Bradley's loyalty to Paterno is somewhat rare in a business where coaches can't keep still. It helps when the head man has been around for nearly half a century and has won more games than any college football coach in history.

Bradley said he continues to learn from Paterno, who was the first person to walk into the church when Bradley's father died in 2002.

"He is always looking for a better way to do something," Bradley said.

As a recruiter, Bradley helps keep a steady stream of talent flowing into the locker room. He once wrote 30 handwritten letters to Gateway's Justin King. When West Allegheny's Mike Caputo recently made a verbal commitment to Wisconsin, he called Bradley, hoping they could remain friends.

Staying in touch

Jim Bradley marvels at all the former players who keep in touch with his little brother, even though it drives him crazy when Tom's phone rings on the golf course.

"Are we playing or running a counseling service?" Jim shouts, feigning anger.

"He connects with those guys," Jim said. "It makes me very proud that this guy who is making a gazillion dollars (in the NFL) is calling my brother for advice."

When Tom graduated from Penn State with a B.S. in business and a Master's in sports administration, Jim tried to steer him toward law school.

"He has a higher IQ than mine," said Jim, whose surgical skills are renowned throughout the U.S. medical community. "I told him: 'Why not go into corporate law• You would be really good at it.'

"He wanted no part of it. He said, 'I am going to be a football coach. That is what I love to do.' "

It was inevitable, really.

As a youth, Tom put a transistor radio under his pillow and kept Jim awake with the sound of that night's Pirates game.

"He always knew the play, what (the manager) was calling," Jim said, pointing out a big difference in their personalities. "I liked to play the game. He liked to understand the game."

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