Bradley might be best pick to coach PSU

Bradley
Bradley
Posted: November 30, 2011

PENN STATE University has officially started its search to replace football coach Joe Paterno, whom it unceremoniously dumped in the wake of the sex-abuse scandal that has engulfed the school, the surrounding community and the commonwealth.

On Monday, the school announced that a six-person committee headed by acting athletic director Dave Joyner would search for PSU's first new football coach in 46 years. There were reports yesterday that Mississippi State's Dan Mullen is the front-runner.

But I think the best choice might be the guy currently holding the job.

On the surface, interim coach Tom Bradley, who stepped in when Paterno was fired on Nov. 9, appears to be exactly what Penn State should step away from.

In a program where a closed-door culture that wielded too much influence seems to be the root cause of the current problems, Bradley, the longtime defensive coordinator, is the ultimate insider. He has a 37-season link to the Paterno era, starting with four as a player.

I certainly understand the argument that the next coach of the Nittany Lions should have no previous ties to the university.

But is it the right move for Penn State and Penn State football as both try to move forward from something that has shaken Happy Valley to its core?

First, let me be clear that Bradley must be completely free of the current scandal. He must be vetted by the search committee as if he were running for president of the United States. Nothing is off-limits. No question is out of bounds. He must be absolutely honest about everything.

Bradley cannot have even a hummingbird-size skeleton in his closet that shows he had any inkling of prior knowledge of the allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

OK, so considering the chances are remote that Bradley never even accidentally overheard a whispered conversation about Sandusky, why him?

Well, because no football coach in the country better understands what is happening with Penn State football and what is going to happen with Penn State football moving forward.

Bradley has been in the belly of the beast with this football program for the past month.

Even more, he knows that as bad as things already have been, the stronger corrosive digestive juices haven't yet started to truly flow.

There are dark, dark weeks, months, possibly years ahead for Penn State football.

When it is all said and done, the one thing we know for sure is that football is never going to be all about football at Penn State again.

The scrutiny that the next coach will be under will be unlike anything in the history of college athletics.

Any coach coming into Penn State must understand that his program is going to be under a microscope viewed throw a telescope.

Minor slips will be viewed like major stumbles.

Wins and bowl bids are going to be afterthoughts to personal conduct of players and coaches for the foreseeable future.

Honestly, despite what a candidate might say to get a high-profile job like Penn State, how many football coaches are equipped to deal with the reality of that?

Urban Meyer, who would have been the best football choice for Penn State, took the Ohio State job, knowing that the Buckeyes are soon going to get some kind of NCAA sanctions.

Al Golden, a solid coach who played at Penn State from 1987 to '91, signed an extension with the University of Miami knowing that the Hurricanes are likely to be banged hard once the current NCAA investigation is done.

The NCAA is looking into Penn State's institutional control in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, but as far as I can tell, PSU isn't likely to face any sanctions.

But that's how toxic this scandal is. This is a morality play in which Penn State is going to have a difficult time coming out looking good. For some, probably nothing it does will be enough.

Penn State is probably lucky that Meyer is off the board.

Considering what is going on, can you imagine what the perception would have been had Penn State given Meyer the 6-year contract worth $4 million annually that Ohio State did?

Hardcore PSU football fans probably wouldn't care about that because Meyer would have guaranteed the Nits would again be national contenders.

The administration at Penn State knows that's the last thing that can appear to be the primary concern.

By nature, coaches don't like transparency. The next coach at Penn State is going to have to run his program through panes of crystal-clear glass.

He and his players will have little, if any, margin for error for doing anything wrong.

The next coach at Penn State is going to have to tell recruits that coming to State College is going to be about playing football under extraordinary circumstances that will challenge their maturity, discipline and responsibility more than at any other program.

The next coach at Penn State cannot shy away from that.

And if a kid can't handle that, no matter how talented he may be, the next coach at Penn State is going to have to move on to the next recruit who can.

The next football coach at Penn State is going to have to understand that, fair or not, football is now viewed as part of the problem at Penn State.

I don't know what kind of football coach Bradley is, but after 37 seasons there, I'm sure he has a unique love for Penn State University - not just for Penn State football.

An outsider probably would be the safer choice.

But an insider like Bradley understands the culture that brought Penn State to this point.

He knows without question that all of that is going to change. He knows he won't be able to cut any corners or make any exceptions. He'll know to not even ask.

Tom Bradley is probably the only candidate for the Penn State job who has a precise understanding of what he would be walking into.

Right now, that might be more valuable to Penn State University as a whole than a football coach who can guarantee a trip to the Rose Bowl.


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smallwj@phillynews.com.

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