After Penn State, Tom Bradley starts anew as UCLA assistant
LOS ANGELES — Tom Bradley has been defensive coordinator at UCLA for less than two months. He is still learning where to go during practice, what his players can do, and how to meld his philosophy and terminology with what is already in place.
There is also the little matter of coping with Los Angeles' notoriously congested freeways, especially around the UCLA campus in Westwood.
"My hardest part of the day is getting here," Bradley said. "Like I told everybody the other day, it was kind of exciting. I didn't almost cause an accident on the 405, nobody beeped their horn at me, and I didn't get lost, so it was the start of a good day.
"I tell everybody I will never complain about the tunnel traffic back in Pittsburgh after being on that 405."
The mere idea of Bradley coaching anywhere other than State College, Pennsylvania, seemed preposterous before the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal erupted in November 2011. Bradley had spent 37 years at Penn State, his first four playing defensive back for coach Joe Paterno, the fifth as a graduate assistant, and the next 32 as an assistant coach under Paterno in nearly every role imaginable. After replacing Sandusky as Penn State's defensive coordinator in 2000, Bradley was regarded as a likely successor to Paterno.
Bradley would fill that role for only four games, taking over as interim coach after Paterno was fired. Bradley resigned from Penn State when Bill O'Brien was hired as head coach the following January. He would spend the next two years as an on-air analyst before joining West Virginia as defensive line coach last season.
UCLA coach Jim Mora said both the university and athletic department vetted Bradley extensively and came away satisfied with the results of that inquiry.
"We were patient, we talked to a lot of people, and we were sure in our decision that he was the right guy for this job at this time so I am very comfortable," Mora said.
Bradley is done talking about the Sandusky scandal.
"I think all those questions have been answered years ago," Bradley said. "I'm here to help UCLA and these players be the best players they can possibly be."
With eight starters returning from the Alamo Bowl victory, including linebacker Myles Jack, Mora expects a seamless melding of the 3-4 defensive alignment that he has featured with the 4-3 concepts Bradley featured to great renown at Penn State.
Mora is quick to point out the extensive use of four-man fronts with nickel personnel that UCLA has featured to try to counter the spread offenses found across the Pac-12.
"A considerable amount of time we are in that structure," Mora said. "It's more a function of how we want to align guys rather than what our philosophy is of being 3-4 or 4-3. It's both, and quite frankly every team I have ever coached has been that way."
Bradley agreed, noting his biggest challenge is matching his verbiage to what the defense is already doing schematically. Secondary coach Demetrice Martin is helping smooth that transition, but players indicated they do not need much assistance with the translation. It helps that Bradley has developed a who's who of top linebackers with the Nittany Lions, from LaVar Arrington to Sean Lee.
Jack described Bradley as "kind of like a Yoda figure, just sitting back and doesn't really use his words too much, but when he does it means something.
"He brings wisdom to our program," Jack said. "Just the way he carries himself, you have to show respect. I'm happy to have him."
Still, Bradley is just starting to get used to the nomadic lifestyle that usually comes with being an assistant after so much stability. He does plan to buy a residence, but is currently renting as the "whirlwind" of getting familiar with the UCLA program didn't leave much time to catch up on the local real estate market.
And while Los Angeles bears little resemblance to central Pennsylvania, Bradley's job has not changed.
"It is different, but one thing stays the same as you do this: It's these guys," Bradley said. "When you get on the field, it's all the same. Between the lines, it's all the same. They want to be good, they want to be great, and I'm just here to do whatever I can to help in any small way."