Joe Paterno has prowled the Beaver Stadium sidelines for 45 years. And for the last 32 of them, so has Tom Bradley, the Nittany Lions’ defensive coordinator and top assistant. Wisecracking and self-deprecating, Bradley is also a tireless worker and effective recruiter whose defenses have finished in the nation’s top 10 in several major categories during the past six years.
What drew you into coaching in the first place?
I enjoyed the competition, being around the people, the challenges of every day, how every day is different. Every game is different.
Why do so many coaches stay here and coach when they have opportunities elsewhere?
Coach Paterno creates a tremendous working environment for you. It’s a great family atmosphere, there’s trust amongst each other, a lot of loyalty. Those are all things that make it a great place to work not only in our organization but the community as a whole.
Have you learned to anticipate how Joe (Paterno) will handle certain issues or does he keep you all guessing?
I think coach has his mode of the way he’s going to lead and he’s constantly changing. Every situation’s different. Every player he deals with is different. You think that maybe he’ll react a certain way, but he’s always looking for a different way to do things, to make things better — he’s constantly evaluating where he is and why.
What do you admire most about him, professionally or personally?
Personally the way he lives his life, and how it’s an example for so many of his players and coaches. Professionally, I don’t think there’ll ever be anyone else like him in college football again. His record speaks for itself, but all the things he’s done for people off the field that people don’t even realize ... not only the players, but people associated with Penn State. ... People don’t realize the magnititude of people he’s had an effect on.
Your nickname is Scrap. Do you have a personality built for defense?
The one thing I have learned is coaching’s coaching. I have coached a number of defensive positions, ended up on the defense. I’m probably much better suited for defense than offense (laughs). On offense there are a lot more technical things going on. We’re in a different mode a lot of the times, a little different atmosphere than on offense — it’s more of an aggressive nature over there sometimes.
Is coaching at this level, especially against teams of equal talent, a chess match, where you’re constantly anticipating and adjusting what the other guy is going to do?
That’s always the challenge of trying to anticipate, give your players the best opportunity to win. On defense it’s better when you’re one play ahead than when you’re one play behind. That match does go on during the game, you’re making adjustments to things. We have a great staff around us, coach (Ron) Vanderlinden, coach (Larry) Johnson, coach (Kermit) Buggs. It’s easy because they’re great coaches and able to make adjustments quickly.
Has the game itself changed much since you played? Is the average player really bigger, stronger or faster?
Absolutely, yes. The game is more sideline to sideline now, spread across the whole field. I think the one thing that’s changed with the players now is that it’s year-round, and not much of a break compared to the old days.
You’d have the season and the winter conditioning but nothing to the extent that it is now. They don’t practice as long because of new rules, but they do put much more time in the offseason than they did years ago. The whole squad’s here working.
Everybody’s throwing the ball around now, they spread you out all over the place. Years ago it was more of a packed-in area — the perimeter game is what’s really changed, the formations are different. Scheming gets more difficult because these offensive guys try to keep sticking you with something new.
What are the best and worst parts about spending so much time on the road?
Some of the best times involve the people you get to meet out here. You have the opportunity not only in the coaching world but your alumni, you come across so many different people. The negative of the road is probably just the road itself, being out there, being gone. You don’t travel as easily as you used to years ago. You could hop on a plane and go, now air travel has changed. I think just being on the road itself sometimes can be difficult. I actually enjoy recruiting, have a lot of fun with it.
Would you like to be the head coach here someday?
Next question, please.
What are the challenges of being a head coach today?
There’s so much more that a head coach does outside of coaching a football team ... the media relations, alumni relations. A lot of head coaches become frustrated because they just want to come in and coach football. Things are different over the years than a head coach used to do 20 or 30 years ago, all the people that want a piece of your time.
What are some of your favorite things about State College?
The people of State College are what make State College. It’s the atmosphere, very friendly, family type with the people downtown, very close-knit community. People that really care about you.