Losing Bradley would be tough for Penn State

Tom Bradley has been a member of Joe Paterno's staff since 1979, after playing at Penn State.
Tom Bradley has been a member of Joe Paterno's staff since 1979, after playing at Penn State.
Posted: January 07, 2011

TOM BRADLEY sounded just a bit frazzled, which is understandable, given the pressures attendant to this time of year for college football coaches.

"Can't really talk now," he said. "I'm on the road, recruiting."

That would be recruiting for Penn State, not the University of Pittsburgh. But Bradley's circumstances could change within the next several days, and if they do, the impact on the Penn State program he has served so faithfully for the past 34 years would reverberate far more than the impending departure of backup quarterbacks Kevin Newsome and Rob Bolden.

Contrary to the rush-to-judgment report aired Wednesday by a Pittsburgh television station that Bradley had been offered and accepted the head-coaching job at Pitt, he remains just a candidate. The position came open on Jan. 1 when Mike Haywood, who had been hired on Dec. 16, was fired a day after his arrest on a domestic-battery charge involving a former girlfriend and the mother of his child. Bradley also was a candidate for the opening at Temple created when another Penn State alum, Al Golden, left the Owls for sunnier climes as the new coach of the Miami Hurricanes.

Bradley lettered as a Penn State defensive back in 1977 and '78 and has been a member of Joe Paterno's coaching staff in some capacity since 1979, the last 11 years as defensive coordinator.

"I'm kind of disappointed with some members of your profession," Bradley said of the report that was followed by a rash of similarly inaccurate stories in other media outlets. "Nothing is happening right now, OK? I've lost respect for people who were in such a hurry to get something first, rather than to get it right. It's done more harm than good."

But if Pitt does follow the course of least resistance and hires Bradley, a Johnstown native who has been highly successful recruiting Western Pennsylvania, the effect could be more far-reaching on Penn State's immediate future as a big-time program than the departure of disgruntled quarterbacks or even the eventual retirement of the 84-year-old Paterno.

Even Paterno, the day after Penn State's 37-24 loss to Florida in the Outback Bowl, acknowledged that Bradley would make an outstanding head coach, and a particularly good fit at Pitt.

"If they ask me, I'll tell them," Paterno said of what he might say to Pitt officials if they inquire about Bradley's qualifications to run his own show. "I think Tommy's a fine coach. He's got strong city of Pittsburgh contacts. He's got a brother [Jim] there, the head [orthopedic] surgeon for the Steelers.

"I think Tommy should be a very, very strong candidate. He's done a good job. He's a good recruiter, a good coach. He's organized. He certainly deserves consideration."

Interestingly, Bradley was not on the list of original candidates compiled by Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson when Dave Wannstedt, a Pitt alum, resigned under pressure on Dec. 7. Wannstedt went 42-31 in six seasons, guiding the Panthers to three consecutive bowl games, although Phil Bennett will serve as the interim coach for tomorrow's Compass Bowl game against Kentucky in Birmingham, Ala. At that time, Pederson said Wannstedt's replacement had to be someone with head-coaching experience, which, of course, Bradley did not have. In addition to Haywood, who had been the coach at Miami (Ohio) for two seasons and had just led the Redhawks to a 9-4 record and the Mid-American Conference championship, Pederson's wish list included Tulsa's Todd Graham and Houston's Kevin Sumerlin.

There have been suggestions that Pederson and Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg might also take a look at Rich Rodriguez, who was fired Wednesday after 3 years at Michigan.

But time is of the essence, even more so given the fact that 10 of Pitt's 18 oral commitments for the recruiting class of 2011 have decommitted, some even before Haywood's arrest and swift termination by Pitt. It was expected that Penn State, with only 10 commitments, would scoop up a few of the more attractive prospects no longer interested in playing for the Panthers.

But the hiring of Bradley could bring several of those players back into the fold. What's more, a couple of kids from the area who had committed to Penn State might consider switching to the Panthers should Bradley replace Haywood. And what if several members of Paterno's veteran staff - whose nine members, including Bradley, have logged a cumulative 150 years in Happy Valley - elected to follow Bradley to Pitt?

Although Paterno has announced he'll be back for his 46th season in 2011, he's not getting any younger and there is a growing belief that next season, the last on the 3-year contract extension he signed in 2008, will be his last. It won't be easy convincing this year's crop of potential recruits to attend Penn State if the old master is on his way out the door, especially if there is uncertainty as to who would replace him. The fact that Bradley, JoePa's most loyal lieutenant, has looked into head-coaching positions elsewhere after rebuffing offers in the past is a strong indication that current members of the staff have been told, or at least believe, none of them will be considered for the top spot, whenever the time comes.

Nor would filling 2011 assistant-coaching vacancies be an easy task if would-be replacements thought they'd be part of a one-and-done, lame-duck operation.

Perhaps things would be different if Paterno had announced a succession plan that would have designated Bradley or defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr., who also is considered head-coaching material, as his hand-picked heir. But asked if such a plan ever had been considered, Paterno answered, "No. Noooo." He added that he hoped to have some input into the decision on his replacement, "to ensure that it be someone who has the same sort of values we have established at Penn State."

Bradley clearly is that kind of guy. But moving forward, who knows? By this time next week, or maybe sooner, the football future could look a lot murkier. *

Send e-mail to fernanb@phillynews.com

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