Ex-PSU assistant Bradley finding a home at WVU
Tom Bradley spent nearly four decades as a student, football player and coach at Penn State, so it made sense he might need help with directions after he took a job at West Virginia in February.
But this kind of help he didn't need.
“In the spring, the players were playing games with me,” he said. “They sent me the wrong way.”
Bradley knows the correct way now. But after 33 years as an assistant under Joe Paterno, he is not fully acclimated. For one thing, he still carries his practice schedule around.
“I didn't have to do that before,” he said. “I kind of knew it.”
As for the playbook, “The words are new, everything's new,” he said. “I didn't have to worry about that because the playbook was my stuff. It was in my head. I really didn't have to look at it ever.”
Bradley was Penn State's defensive coordinator from 2000 until he was named interim head coach for the final four games of the 2011 season after Paterno's firing in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.
After Bill O'Brien was hired as head coach, Bradley left Penn State and coaching. He did broadcasting and stayed close to the game before signing on last spring as WVU's defensive line coach, with the added title of senior associate head coach.
The senior part fits. At 58, Bradley is the oldest of the Mountaineers coaches, the most experienced by far. But he remains young at heart, garrulous and energetic. There is, older brother Jim said, “such a joy about him.” He has friends spread far and wide in college athletics and a sterling reputation as a defensive coach and recruiter.
“He was certainly somebody I'd been watching for years,” said WVU athletic director Oliver Luck, who actively recruited Bradley.
Luck said he read — twice — the Penn State-sanctioned Freeh Report that criticized university administrators for a culture that allowed Sandusky to sexually abuse boys and accused Paterno of covering up the allegations. Luck said he talked to countless people who know Bradley and is convinced he had no connection with the Sandusky scandal.
“For me, it was an opportunity to get a guy who has coached extraordinarily well and has a great track record defensively,” Luck said.
Luck said he likes that Bradley, whose nickname is “Scrap,” grew up in Johnstown.
“Cambria County,” Luck said. “Tough, hard-nosed guys, which is exactly what we needed.”
Bradley calls the job “a great opportunity” and said he is comfortable in his new surroundings. As a kid, he went to West Virginia games with Jim and their father, Sam, a former Pitt basketball player. He has lived his entire life in essentially the same part of the world.
Although he enjoyed working as a CBS analyst and talking football with Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau during frequent visits with the Steelers, Bradley said he missed the competition and working with the players. Jim Bradley, an orthopedist, Steelers team doctor and former Penn State linebacker, said his brother also missed the action.
“Come on, there's nothing better than coaching a game on the sideline,” Jim Bradley said. “He did that for 33 years.”
Tom Bradley said, “Yeah, it was a change, and you have to adapt to change and not be afraid of change. From that perspective, I came from a pretty good background in dealing with adversity. I just went from there. As long as you throw yourself into anything you're doing, it's not a bad thing.”
Bradley can and will expound at length on anything, except himself. Jim Bradley said that came from a father who taught his kids “if you're good at something, you don't need to say anything.”
This is especially true when the subject is how things ended at Penn State.
“I just had to deal with it,” Bradley said. “What was I gonna do? I didn't have time to worry about everything. I had to move on.”
As the sex-abuse crisis began to boil late in 2011, leading Paterno to announce his resignation effective at season's end and then learn he was fired, Bradley was named interim coach. Weathering difficult, unprecedented conditions, he drew widespread praise.
“He was basically put out and thrown to the wolves,” Jim Bradley said. “I don't know how many people could have handled it as well as he did. I think he did a tremendous job of keeping the team together.”
Bradley once was presumed to be Paterno's successor, but it never materialized. After the 2011 season, he had what apparently was a courtesy interview for the full-time job. Penn State by all accounts was set on hiring an outsider such as O'Brien.
“If people couldn't see that he was a head coach, they don't know the coaching profession,” Jim Bradley said. “Watch the way he handled the media. Watch the way he handled the team. That's what coaches do.”
Bradley, who fielded inquiries from other schools, again is doing what coaches do. He is assigned to help rebuild a unit that ranked 101st out of 123 FBS teams in total defense (455 yards per game) and tied for 99th in scoring defense (33.3 points per game) last season.
As always, he said, it is more about the players than the X's and O's, or what he calls “the dots.” He said he has criticized coaches in the past for not knowing enough about their players.
“He understands ... the importance of communication and getting to know your kids as well as you can,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said.
“Every time he opens his mouth, you're trying to listen to every word he says,” nose tackle Kyle Rose said. “He's got so much knowledge. He's a guy you want to play for.”
Bradley said he focuses on how to motivate his players.
“Everybody's a little different,” he said. “That's the one thing I'm playing catch-up on. I don't know the past. I didn't recruit these guys. When you recruit players and you're around them, you have a better feel for things.
“If you can understand them as people, you can better understand them as players.”
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.