On Thursday Penn State formally introduced Tom Bradley as the interim head football coach, following the dismissal of Joe Paterno. Bradley of course had served as the team's defensive coordinator since 1999, when he took over for the now infamous Jerry Sandusky, and since assuming the position he has built a reputation as a solid defensive coach with some strong recruiting pull in western Pennsylvania.
You don't need me to tell you what you can easily pull up on a Wikipedia page, or God forbid the school's athletics website, but having covered the tem up close and in person over the past couple years I feel I can shed at least a little light on the new Nittany Lions head coach now that he is in a much more high-profile position.
Bradley, as you may know by now, is a Penn State guy from top to bottom. He played at Penn State under Paterno (in fact most assistant coaches have played for Paterno). He has been on the staff for over three decades. As far as recruiting goes, he has been one of the major faces for Penn State as Paterno's in-home visits diminished over the years. Bradley has been very well received in western Pennsylvania with a number of Pittsburgh area ties. It is no coincidence that he has been considered for the head coaching job at Pittsburgh not once, but twice. Instead Pittsburgh went with Dave Wannstedt and Todd Graham (I won't even mention the other guy in the mix for our Pitt readers out there).
If you watched the press conference for Bradley then you saw a man who knows exactly what he is stepping in to. He was careful not to say anything controversial about the ongoing investigation, as he would have been legally advised, but he never would have touched it anyway. He had a strong presence behind the microphone but there were times when his true self came through with a sense of humor. He is not going to be hitting it big on open-mic night at the local comedy club but he has a dry sense of humor and is often quick with some one-liners or zingers. Take this video following the Purdue game for instance, where he talked about a penalty on a kickoff return by Chaz Powell. He is a good communicator who tries to inform but he delivers well and even had a crack to throw in.
Bradley has always had a bend-but-don't break kind of philosophy when it comes to defense, which has been a legitimate criticism over the years but he has still been able to come through with some solid defenses more often than not. Until this season the defense has been slumping but players like Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor, Sean Lee, Jared Odrick, Navorro Bowman and more still found ways to excel. Now we will see what he can do managing both sides of the ball, which will be fascinating and intriguing to watch. Bradley has said that he will still try to have the team play with the same expectations they have had all season, and the offensive coaches will still try to call their normal packages, with Jay Paterno calling passing plays and Galen Hall calling the running plays, but what everybody will be looking for will be whether or not Bradley plays the game as conservatively as Joe Paterno has for decades.
Paterno has always tended to play it safe on offense, with very few calculated risks called on offense. Will Bradley be a little more daring? Will he ask for a gamble on 3rd and 2 when Paterno would just want to see the back plow up the middle? Honestly, nobody knows at this point.
This is Bradley's time to shine, and unfortunately for him it may not last very long. It is widely expected that when all is said and done Penn State will have wiped the slate clean as far as personnel goes, and that means a fresh coaching staff form top to bottom. Bradley's head coaching future will likely continue, but not at Penn State. If he can finish the job this season and pick up a few big wins (remember, we're strictly talking about football now, and not attempting to minimize the larger issues at Penn State) then he will have a few nice things to put on his resume for the off-season.
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