I love the man we called Scrap. I love Tom Bradley, and I think that the cover 3 base defense Penn State ran, with many variations, from approximately 1967 through 2011, was one of the greatest and most effective defenses ever ran in the history of college football. It is a defense that has been described as overly plain and too stale; mighty funny since those who innovated it - Joe Paterno and, yes, Jerry Sandusky - deserve as much credit for the invention of the zone blitz, one of the most important defensive concepts ever, as mighty Dick LeBeau himself. I highly recommend that all Penn State fans read Paterno: By the Book for Paterno's personal account of how he spent the summer of 1967 locked in his house creating the best defense he could possibly envision.
What Paterno came up with is, in fact, the perfect defense for Penn State for two reasons:
First, because, like no other defense, it allows all eleven men to always play as a unit and flow to the football as a cohesive unit. People do not turn their backs to the ball in the old Penn State defensive scheme. For years, Paterno preached the simple, raspy phrase "Get to the ball!" in his Brooklyn whine, and for years his players did so not as individuals, but as a whole defense. This is perfect for Penn State, the football team that is all about nameless jerseys and athletes who retain their individual strengths but submit them to a higher concept that is both philosophical and practical: collective unity on the football field.
Second, because it is both conservative and aggressive. Bradley's innovation to the old Penn State scheme was to make it tougher against modern spread offenses; his good record against spread offenses generally attests to his success. Like Edmund Burke, it is a defense that is best described as being an example of one word: prudence. The truth about defense in college football, as in any sport, is that there is no shame in giving up points. The objective is to win the game, and what that really means is that you need a defense that is capable of being resilient, not literally immovable. Resilient defenses win football games, because they keep the margin of error small enough for the offense. See Michigan State vs. Stanford. As much as I love Michigan State's defensive scheme, however, I read this beautiful piece by Chris at Smart Football on the Xs and Os of "Joe Paterno's Penn State defense", my memory of Penn State's decades-long defensive glory returns, and I know that I'm reading about the defense that is Penn State football. Because Penn State's character is, to a great degree, tied up in zone schemes that emphasize, above all man-to-man schemes, men playing as a team.
Tom Bradley's own role in the success of the Penn State defense during his tenure lies in the fact that he is a great recruiter, a great teacher, and a great leader. He is a man who inspires loyalty from his players, and kept such fine coaches as LJSR and Ron Vanderlinden around when such coaches were well, well overqualified. His record as a recruiter, coach, and ambassador is comparable to or better than such figures as Munchak, Golden, Schiano, or Franklin. Hire Bradley, and you'll get a great defense, for starters. His principles, though, of teaching the defensive basics (leverage and tackling always being my favorites from the best PSU players - plus an inherent knack, most prominent among linebackers and hero backs like Astorino, for finding the ball - what my Dad always just called "smelling the football") mean that you will most likely receive an offense that is fundamentally solid. His recruiting skills means you'll get fundamentally solid and talented offensive players. He has never built his own staff, true, but his experience of excellently working with good people, and all that he learned from Joe Paterno, means he should be fine. And what offensive coordinator wouldn't jump at the opportunity to work with talented and fundamentally sound players? Add in a good scheme to that mixture, and you're stealing candy from Big Ten babies.
The greatest knock against Tom Bradley is that he was associated with Jerry Sandusky. Sadly, such an association has not similarly tarnished the reputations and careers of everyone from Tom Corbett and Ed Rendell to Dave Joyner and Greg Schiano.
As a man, Tom Bradley is perfectly qualified to be Penn State's head coach, a person who can add his own touch and take the program in the right direction towards a bright future while maintaining great links to one of the most coherent, stable, and proudest traditions and histories in American athletics. Yet the knock remains, and few people believe Tom Bradley will ever get the job. Truth be told, even I don't believe he'll get the job. But he should, because Tom Bradley produced no injustice, and he is a good, honest, and humble man. Goodness, honesty, and humility are what we really, truly want from our head coach. Moreover, what we need is someone who will win football games, remain loyal to Penn State University and everything it both expects and should stand for, and help enable an actual healing process. He's capable of all of those things, and Penn State ought to give him a call.
( There - to that guy who told me to write one of these things, I did it, so you'd better say thank you.)