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Q&A: Former Penn State DC Tom Bradley Chats With NSN About Being Honored Before WVU Game, PSU Defense, More

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Tom Bradley

Former Penn State defensive coordinator and interim head coach Tom Bradley sees football a little differently now.

From 1975 through 2020, Bradley either played or coached in every football season but two.

He spent a season at West Virginia (2014) three at UCLA (2015-17) and three more in the NFL, coaching the Steelers’ defensive backs.

But he spent most of his football life at Penn State.

He played there from 1975-78 and then coached there for the next 33 seasons, spending the last 12 as the team’s defensive coordinator. After Joe Paterno’s sudden dismissal in November 2011, Bradley became the team’s interim coach for the final four games, going 1-3.

But that win was at Ohio State, and almost 12 years later, no Penn State coach has accomplished that feat since.

Now, Bradley, 67, sees himself as a fan more than anything else. When he goes Penn State’s games, he doesn’t try to coach from the stands or picture himself coaching guys like Abdul Carter, Chop Robinson and Kalen King. Nope. He just enjoys it.

NSN caught up with Bradley to discuss him being an honorary captain for the team’s season opener against West Virginia, his thoughts on Drew Allar and the current squad and more in this Q&A.

Nittany Sports Now: How was your experience being on the field before the West Virginia game?

Tom Bradley: It was obviously exciting. Any time you get an opportunity to go back in front of the greatest fans in college football (is great). A little bit of pressure, though. I was glad we won the coin toss laughs. I’m thinking “Please win the coin toss.” Everybody said, “Oh, did they let you touch the coin?” No, they don’t let you touch the coin. But I’m just glad my team won the coin toss and won the game. It was great. You start to realize how you’re involved in something that’s so much bigger than yourself. To be a part of that for so many years is an absolute blessing.

NSN: What has your relationship with James Franklin been like?

TB: I know coach Franklin, but I don’t… you know, he has a job to do. He’s very busy… I guess we’re both busy, we have a lot of things going on and he’s done a really great job at Penn State. So, hopefully, it will continue.

NSN: What have you seen from the current Penn State team so far?

TB: Well, they have a heck of a running game. They’re playing good, sound football. They don’t turn the ball over. They have a lot of playmakers on defense. They’ve been able to get to the quarterback with four guys (rushing). So, they have a lot of good things going on right now. And last week (against Iowa), anytime you pitch a shutout is, they’re hard to come by chuckles. They just don’t happen all the time. So that’s a tremendous thing, and I think as long as they continue, they’re going to be a handful for the rest of this schedule.

NSN: As a former defensive coordinator yourself, what do you see from what they’re doing scheme-wise that you think has helped lead to that success?

TB: I don’t study them like that anymore. When I go, I go more as a fan than anything probably. So, I don’t look at the day-to-day operations of what they have. But what they have is they obviously have a very talented group. (They’re) able to get there (to the quarterback) with a pass rush of four guys. Manny (Diaz) and coach Terry Smith do a great job of mixing their nickel, their dime, and they have good depth at the positions. I mean, it’s a really sound defense, so they’re going to be hard to put a lot of points on. And they’re fundamentally sound. They run to the ball, they tackle well. A lot of times, what happens in football— everybody wants to talk about the schematics and everything— but a lot of times, it just comes down to basic fundamentals. Knowing your gap integrity, running to the ball, proper angles, down and distance. So, there’s a whole lot of different things that go into that besides just schematically. And the great thing so far is you have to stay healthy. You have to be a little bit lucky, too.

NSN: What have you seen from Drew Allar in his first few games as a starting quarterback?

TB: He’s been very patient. He’s been making the right reads. He’s very confident in what he’s doing. He’s not trying to force any issues, and I think if he continues with that, like I said, with no interceptions, he doesn’t force the ball places where he shouldn’t. He hasn’t had to. That running game helps the quarterback, too. He feeds off that running game.

NSN: What are just some of your general thoughts coming into Northwestern and on that matchup?

TB: It’s interesting because you just went through a White Out, which is one of the great experiences in college football. And then you’re going to go to Northwestern, where there will not be a big crowd. You’re going to have to generate your own excitement out there, so it’s one of those things where you have to be ready to go early. It’s an early game and it’s away, so you have to be your own fan that game. It’s a different atmosphere.

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