Thank You, Tom Bradley
Fifty years from now, someone will look at a list of men who have served as a head coach for the Penn State football program. The long-term future of that list is anyone’s guess. However, one guarantee is that in between the names “Joe Paterno” and “Bill O’Brien” will read “Tom Bradley, November 9, 2011- January 7, 2012, 1-3 record.”
A 1-3 record as head coach does not begin to tell the story of Bradley’s impact on the Pennsylvania State University during his brief tenure. On November 9th, around 9:45 p.m., Bradley was offered his dream job under nightmarish conditions, which may even describe the situation a bit too lightly. A few moments after learning that Joe Paterno, who Bradley described as one of the two most influential males in his life (the other being his father), was going to be fired in about twenty minutes, Bradley accepted the job.
Make no mistake about it, Bradley did not have to do this. Penn State’s defensive coordinator at the time could have easily said something along the lines of “I’m out of here. I didn’t create this; it’s not my problem.” It would have been tough to blame him if he declined and ran away, but that is not the Tom Bradley thing to do. When the place that one has known and loved for thirty-six years is in trouble, loyalty does not run away. Loyalty accepts the challenge and the adversity that will most certainly follow.
About thirteen hours later, sitting at a press conference with dark circles under his eyes after a sleepless night, Bradley was officially announced as the interim coach. This would certainly not be his last press conference over the next two months, but it may have been his most difficult. Frequently, a member of the media would attempt to convince Bradley to throw someone under the bus for what had occurred. Scrap never bit, never missed a single step. Rather, he talked about communication with players, players’ parents, and fellow coaches. “The expectations are the expectations.”
In the four games Bradley coached, he lost three of them by an average margin of nineteen points. One can make a good case based on his track record as a defensive coordinator that those four games are not indicative of Bradley’s ability. Fittingly, his lone victory came against Ohio State in Ohio Stadium, a place where wins are few for any coach.
From the beginning of the scandal, Bradley likely knew that he was not going to be the permanent coach beyond the conclusion of the season. His first game as head coach against Nebraska contained many surreal moments, including one in particular that took place before the game even started. About thirty minutes before kickoff, after checking on a few of his players who were stretching, Bradley held up his hand to acknowledge a contingent of cheering fans.
Bradley also attempted to make himself accessible to fans whenever possible. Onward State staffer Kevin Horne made the trip to Dallas for the bowl game and had the following to say:
“He was unbelievable. Several times an hour, he walked through the lobby to shake hands and sign autographs for anyone who wanted to talk to him. He made himself so accessible. He even spent some time in the hotel bar on New Year’s Eve, not to drink, but to interact with all the Penn State fans. I’ve never heard of a coach being as approachable as he was. Certainly, the complete opposite of Paterno in that regard. I’ll never forget Scrap for that.”
Even after the bowl game loss, Bradley remained charismatic. People said that it was time for him to take care of himself, but he just kept on recruiting all the way through Thursday before issuing a statement in support of Bill O’Brien after he found out that the search committee had passed him over.
Bradley arrived in Happy Valley as a freshman in 1975, and in almost four decades, the biggest mistake anybody could probably find with him is sometimes staying in a Cover 2 or zone defense when he should have switched to man. If that is the man’s biggest fault, it appears to have been a pretty solid run for Tom Bradley at Penn State.
Aside from asking him a question at a press conference, I have never met Bradley. I said to someone the other day that I wish I could just shake his hand and thank him for being loyal when until the very end when it was not required and for being a class act preserving the honor of Penn State Football. I know for a fact that many students, alumni, and fans would like to do the same thing. Since the handshake has not yet been possible, I suppose these 804 words will have to suffice for now.
You’re the man Scrap.