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Onward and Upward

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Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is in no hurry to become the head coach of a major college football program. It doesn’t necessarily mean Bradley, if provided the right circumstance, would pass up the opportunity to guide his own team, or he hasn’t been given the chance. In 33 years at Penn State, he’s had ample opportunity to leave Happy Valley.

But he’s not ready to leave yet. Not after everything Penn State has done for him.

“I think anybody in this profession aspires to be a head coach and put their stamp on a program,” Bradley said. “I think most guys would like to have that opportunity.

“If I don’t get to be a head coach, if it doesn’t happen, it’s not going to be what defines me.”

Bradley almost received his opportunity this past January as a leading candidate for vacant head coaching positions at Pitt, Connecticut, and Temple. The three schools ultimately moved in other directions, but Bradley didn’t appear to hold any hard feelings.

“I’m out recruiting, I’m trying to get players ready for 2011. That’s my focus,” Bradley said. “I can’t control what’s going to happen, so I don’t worry about it very often.”

Loyalty has defined Bradley during his three-decade tenure at Penn State. It’s an admirable quality given the way many college head coaches and assistants seemingly jump from job-to-job in search of a new position or more money.

“A lot of it has to do with how you’re raised and qualities instilled to me from my father,” Bradley said. “Loyalty is one of the greatest qualities you can have, especially if you believe in something and you believe what you’re doing is worthwhile.”

Bradley realizes loyalty is a two-way street and credits Penn State’s legendary head coach Joe Paterno for his success.

“Not only have I been loyal, but coach Paterno has been very loyal to me and my family,” Bradley said. “It means a great deal to me.”

Bradley, who played at Penn State from 1975-78, became a graduate assistant in 1979 and a full-time staff member in 1980. He was named defensive coordinator in 2000 and flourished after replacing longtime boss Jerry Sandusky, who retired. From 2004-10, Penn State ranks No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense and fifth in rushing and total defense.

Bradley’s name surfaced at Pitt after Michael Haywood, the university’s first choice after Dave Wannstedt resigned, was arrested and subsequently fired following a domestic violence charge.

Rumors of Bradley becoming Pitt’s next coach intensified to the point where several media outlets erroneously reported the speculation as a done deal, prompting a statement from university officials refuting the reports.

But Bradley, along with eventual head coach Todd Graham, still reportedly received second-round interviews with chancellor Mark Nordenberg.

Bill Fralic, University of Pittsburgh and college football Hall of Famer, criticized administration and athletic director Steve Pederson during the two coaching searches last winter. Fralic, a broadcaster with the team, is pleased with Graham as Pitt’s choice, but he also would’ve been happy with Bradley.

“Anybody that has (Bradley) will be lucky to have him because he’s a class individual and carries himself well,” Fralic said. “A lot of Pitt people, including myself, would’ve embraced Tom Bradley being the head coach at Pitt.”

Thomas Jefferson head coach Bill Cherpak, another former Pitt offensive lineman, has known Bradley for more than 20 years. He reached out to wish his friend well during the search.

“He always handles himself with class in every situation,” Cherpak said. “He never badmouthed anyone through the entire process, and he certainly had the opportunity to do that, but he picked the high road.”

Cherpak has worked closely with Bradley during his 15 years as head coach at Thomas Jefferson, where he led the Jaguars to four WPIAL Class AAA championships and three PIAA titles in five years.

Bradley, known as one of the top recruiters in college football and a three-sport standout at Bishop McCort High School near Johnstown, has taken 10 players from Cherpak’s teams, including lineman Tyler Reed, who enjoyed a stint in the National Football League.

“When somebody recruits one of your players, you always look for them to go above and beyond and take care of your kids and (Bradley) does that,” Cherpak said.

Fralic has always been impressed with Bradley and believes he is more-than capable of leading a major college football program.

“I think it’s fair to say he was very interested in the opportunity and things just didn’t work out,” said Fralic, who also spoke with Bradley during the search. “I have no idea how the decision making process came down and where he fit into it, but things just didn’t work out and at the end of the day they went in a different direction.

“Tom is an excellent football coach, he’s been exposed to one of the best, and he‘s quite capable of running his own show if given the opportunity and if that’s what he wants.”

Many have Bradley pegged as the heir apparent to Paterno once the 84-year-old head coach eventually retires.

The university does not have a succession plan in place, but Bradley has filled in for Paterno on the sidelines as recent as 2008, when the legendary head coach, entering his 46th year at the helm, was bothered by a sore right leg and hip that required surgery.

“I think there’s going to be a strong push for Tom to be the head coach when Joe finally does go,” Cherpak said. “He’s had ample opportunity to leave, but he’s had that loyalty to the people he works with and the university and that means a lot to him.”

Bradley will be rewarded, whether it’s at Penn State or elsewhere.

He’s not worried about what the future holds. Thanks to advice from Paterno, Bradley knows it will all work out in the end.

“If you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves,” Bradley said. “Just keep hustling and something good will happen. Whatever you want to be, make sure you’re a good one. If you’re going to be a defensive coordinator, be the best one you can be.

“That’s what (Paterno) preaches, that’s the way he coaches, and that’s the way he lives his life.”

That’s how Bradley looks at it too.

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