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Penn State Football: After 399 Games as an Assistant, Bradley Still Takes a Backseat

by on November 12, 2011 6:05 AM

Tom Bradley was an assistant football coach at Penn State for 399 games over nearly 33 seasons.

On Saturday, his first as Penn State’s head coach, he’ll still take a backseat.

On the team buses as they next to the south gate of Beaver Stadium, about 90 minutes before noon kickoff against Nebraska.

And in the minds of many Nittany Lion fans and most of the nation.

It will be Penn State’s first game since the Sandusky child-sexual-abuse scandal broke last weekend. And it will be the first game without Joe Paterno on the Penn State football staff since Nov. 19, 1949.

Penn State lost 19-0 at Pitt that day. Bradley had yet to be born and Harry S. Truman was president.

On Wednesday, 62 years and 704 games later, Paterno was fired by the Penn State Board of Trustees. Why? Because the board believes that the grave "difficulties that have engulfed our university" made necessary a leadership change and a new direction for Penn State. (The board announced Wednesday the departure of Graham Spanier from the Penn State presidency, as well.)

Bradley moves up from his defensive coordinator's post to become the Nittany Lions’ 15th head coach, and only the third at the university since 1949.

In 1950, Rip Engle came from Brown to the Pennsylvania State College (PSU became a U in 1953), brought along Paterno -- who was his quarterback at Brown -- and had a pristine 16-year run and a 104-48-4 record. Paterno succeeded Engle in 1966, and guided the Nittany Lions to two national championships and a 409-136-3 record, including PSU’s 10-7 win over Illinois on Oct. 29.

That seems like decades ago.

NO. 448 FOR BRADLEY

Now, Bradley is head coach. It will be his 448th game at Penn State overall. As a player, he was on teams that went 38-10, and as an assistant he helped PSU to a 286-111-2 record. That’s a mark of 324-121-2.

Now, he will be trying to make an entirely different mark.

He made a big statement to ESPN on Friday, when he told interviewer Tom Rinaldi that he would not occupy the front right seat of the first of four Penn State blue buses that transport players and coaches from the Lasch Building to the stadium on game day.

“It will be vacant on Saturday,” Bradley said. “No one will be in the first bus the first seat on the right. That’s Coach Paterno’s seat. And we’ll keep it that way."

Across the aisle from the empty seat, count on junior quarterback Matt McGloin sitting in the front left seat. That’s reserved for the starting quarterback. McGloin started the Nittany Lions’ last two games – both victories -- and has had the bulk of the playing time over Rob Bolden since starting Big Ten play at the beginning of October.

It’s a set-up that has worked. But barely – despite McGloin’s considerable leadership skills.

The Nittany Lions are 8-1 overall and 5-0 in the Big Ten, sitting alone on the top of the Leaders division, ahead of the pack by two games with three regular season contests to play.

EFFECTIVE, NOT ATTRACTIVE

Penn State’s victories have not been pretty. Four times in 2011 they have won despite scoring less than 17 points – against Temple (14-10), Indiana (16-10), Iowa (13-3) and Illinois (10-7, thanks to a lucky bounce off the goal post on Illinois’ last-second field goal attempt to toe the game).

How rare is that record of offensive inefficiency and defensive salvation?

The last time a major college had a formula of 4 games less than 17 = 4 victories came in 2000, and it was calculated by the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

The question on Saturday is this:

Can the Penn State players ignore the absence of both Paterno and receivers coach and offensive traffic cop Mike McQueary – sidelined by new university president Rod Erickson, a result of the Sandusky scandal – and focus on beating an inconsistent 7-2 Nebraska squad?

It’s Senior Day, so there’s motivation to focus on the game and not all that transpired this past week. A Herculean task.

Bradley did a little of the heavy lifting when he decided that seniors Derek Moye, Quinn Barham, Drew Astorino and Devon Still would be the first Nittany Lions out of the south end zone tunnel and onto the field just before kickoff on Saturday.

“The captains will lead the team out of the huddle,” Bradley told ESPN. “It’s their team. I will not lead the team out of the huddle. It’s business as usual for me on Saturday, the way we’ve always done things.”

Not true, not this time. For the first time in his Penn State football life, Tom Bradley is in the driver’s seat.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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