Given the choice of any Penn State coach to have a beer with, Tom Bradley is the clear choice for many fans. He is extremely likeable, will talk your ear off all night about anything, and seems to be one of the best people in the business. Having met him in a Pittsburgh bar last year, he chatted with a friend and I for about an hour about football, Penn State and even busted our balls a little. At last night's PIAA AAA state championship game, he was seen talking to, taking pictures with, and signing autographs for anyone that approached him. All in all, Bradley is a great man.
However, for a variety of reasons, Bradley is an unwanted man.
If you asked two months ago which head coaching positions Bradley would be perfect for, the top two answers would be Penn State and Pitt, in that order. Having served on the Penn State staff for more than 30 years, many across the country viewed Bradley as the heir apparent to Joe Paterno.
Two months later, though, Bradley is now most likely a man on the outside looking in, a candidate for the open Penn State position in the technical sense of the term only. Warranted or not, he is associated with the ongoing Jerry Sandusky scandal, having served under the man for a number of years and having been a coach when Sandusky's numerous alleged transgressions were taking place. In all likelihood, according to numerous reports floating around, the Penn State search committee is looking to bring in an outsider and employ the "clean sweep" method of crisis control. Like it or not, Tom Bradley won't be the next coach at Penn State.
So that leaves the recent opening at Pitt a perfect spot for Bradley, right? He is a western Pennsylvania boy at heart, and was rumored to be high in the running when Pitt had an opening at the position last year. This time around, Tom Bradley once again won't be the next head coach at Pitt, either.
We spoke with Chris Peak of PantherLair.com, Pitt's Rivals.com-affiliated website,about Bradley and his potential as a Pitt candidate. "Everyone knows right now that if you mention Penn State, it means Jerry Sandusky and the awful things he is accused of doing," Peak told us. "That association is reflexive and unbreakable. And if you mention Tom Bradley, the association is with Penn State. Fairly or unfairly, that’s what he’s associated with, and will be for a while."
Within Penn State circles, Bradley would have been seen as a safe hire but one that is potentially toxic given his zero-degrees-of-separation from the Sandusky scandal. Outside of Penn State, the name Tom Bradley is immediately associated with that scandal, without the benefit of the doubt that he may have received in State College.
"Again, maybe that's fair and maybe it isn't, but fairness doesn't matter," Peak continued. "In fact, what Bradley actually knows or his role in the situation doesn't matter. The stigma is there because of the association. Eventually that might wear off, but not in the next week or two weeks, and anything beyond that time frame is out of Pitt’s window."
It's unfortunate for all involved. Pitt is missing out on a great, defensive-minded coach that would have zero chance of bolting for another head coaching job in the dark of night, at least after only a year. Bradley misses out on not one but two perfectly suited job openings because of his association with Jerry Sandusky and Penn State, even if it turns out he knew nothing at all.
Bradley will land somewhere, it's just difficult to say at this point whether that will be as a head coach or a lateral move as defensive coordinator. He's a risky hire PR-wise but a very strong defensive candidate. Paired with the right offensive coordinator, Bradley could lead one helluva team.
As for Pitt, the names being seen thrown around include Ohio State's Luke Fickell, Florida International's Mario Cristobal and Alabama's linebackers coach Sal Sunseri, father of Tino Sunseri, current Pitt QB.