Bradley embraces opportunity at WVU
WHEELING, W.Va. — Before West Virginia's open practice Saturday at Wheeling Island Stadium, new assistant coach Tom Bradley chatted with fans Cris and Michelle Petrella for several minutes and gave Maria, their 5-year-old daughter, a nutrition wafer.
Everyone seemed to get along famously, even though Bradley and the Petrellas never had met previously.
“Would you have known that? marveled Michelle Petrella. “He was, like, amazing.”
Michelle is a big Mountaineers fan, but Cris primarily roots for Penn State. For that reason, he brought the family, which includes 9-year-old son, Nico, from Weirton, W.Va., to see Bradley and maybe get a chance to wish him well. He got much more than that.
“He's gonna do this team a lot of good,” Cris Petrella said.
That was the intent of WVU coach Dana Holgorsen, who hired the 57-year-old Johnstown native in February. For 33 years as a Penn State assistant (preceded by four years as a player), the effusive, ebullient Bradley, whose nickname is “Scrap,” built a reputation as a defensive mastermind and strong recruiter. That remains more than two years after he left the university in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal and the firing of coach Joe Paterno.
Bradley replaced Paterno as interim coach for the last four games of the 2011 season and applied for the permanent job, which went to Bill O'Brien. After leaving Penn State, Bradley worked as an analyst for CBS, Steelers radio and Clear Channel Communications.
The Mountaineers could use his help. They went 4-8 last season, yielding more than 33 points a game. There is a new defensive coordinator, Tony Gibson. Bradley has the title of senior associate head coach, with added duties as a first-time defensive line coach.
Holgorsen called Bradley “a tremendous person” who is fun to talk to and has a million stories. More substantial is Bradley's “knowledge of the game, his knowledge of defense, his knowledge of how to motivate kids,” Holgorsen said. “He's got a tremendous amount of experience. He's as good as advertised.”
Still, it seems odd to see “West Virginia” stitched on the back of Bradley's black jacket and the white hat with the WVU logo.
“It's been different,” Bradley said. “Thirty seven years. When I got (to West Virginia), I couldn't find the locker room.”
He said he continues to acclimate himself to “different things, different places, different systems.”
Other than psychic bonds and memories, one tangible tie with Penn State remains. Bradley will be the special honoree of the annual Paterno Family Beaver Stadium Run in April. But in his first appearance before a media gathering since his hiring, Bradley stuck to the current agenda.
“Hey, let's talk about West Virginia,” he said. “It's about these players. It's about these guys. It's their time. They're excited. They're coming off a 4-8 season. They're upset about it. They want to come out better.”
Bradley missed coaching, he said, “but it was a good experience for me. I got to see a lot of football. I got to see a lot of things I wouldn't have. But you miss being around the game.”