Does the man currently in charge of the Penn State football program really have a chance to stay in charge?
It's an interesting and likely draining time for Tom Bradley. Penn State's interim head coach spent the first part of the week in New York at the College Football Hall of Fame ceremonies, and he'll be in Dallas on Thursday for a TicketCity Bowl media appearance. This was after Bradley had spent more than a week on the road visiting recruits.
Joining Bradley in Dallas will be Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner, the man who is currently searching for Joe Paterno's full-time replacement. Joyner has thus far done a masterful job of keeping the details of the coaching search private, but he doesn't have much time. Penn State president Rodney Erickson has gone on record saying the university hopes to have the new coach in place by the bowl game.
Bradley has repeatedly said since taking the job that the current players had "nothing to do" with the Jerry Sandusky scandal. What he's probably wanted to scream from the top of Mount Nittany is that he didn't, either. More than anyone else, Bradley represents the dilemma facing not just the administration but the entire Penn State football program right now; he wants to maintain the tradition and the tenets that helped the Nittany Lions become one of the nation's best teams annually on the field and in the classroom, but he also wants to distance himself from the veil of secrecy that some feel enabled the Sandusky situation to get as bad as it did.
There is little question Bradley is capable of leading the program. The bigger question is how much leading did Paterno do over the last few seasons, as his health declined, and how many of his duties were picked up by Bradley or other members of the staff?
If Joyner, Erickson and the rest of Penn State's administration wants a smooth transition from the Paterno Era to the post-Paterno Era, it's tough to say Bradley wouldn't provide one of the smoothest. Penn State currently has a very solid (not outstanding, but solid) recruiting class that could easily break apart if Bradley and certain other assistants on the current staff are not retained. Could the next coach fill those spots with other top recruits before signing day? Maybe, but it's a risk. You also have to wonder how many transfers of current players could be avoided if the current staff is retained.
Now, if Penn State is able to find the right coach, it will be able to recover from one down recruiting cycle; Paterno, Bradley and the rest of the staff helped ensure that by stocking the previous classes with talent. But he wants a chance to build on that talent, to avoid the step back that many believe is inevitable regardless of who the next coach is.
Bradley needs to convince Joyner and the search committee that he can keep the best parts of the Paterno era and blend them with a fresh start. It's a tricky sales pitch, and probably not that different from the one he's been giving to recruits.