Tom Bradley looking to win at second home

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- Growing up, Tom Bradley's father took him to Penn State games. But he also drove him down to watch West Virginia play, too. And at an early age, Bradley realized the importance of West Virginia football.

This season, Bradley will be coaching at a place other than Penn State for the first time in his 34-year career. But it's also a place he feels he knows well.

"I've played against them, I've recruited against them all those years," Bradley said. "I know all the great players they've gotten and we missed on. I know the great defenses they've had.

"I get it. I've followed them. I know it. I understand the pride that West Virginia takes in their football team. They get after it. These people are die-hard fans. And they live and breathe with the Mountaineers."

It wasn't long ago that the man known as "Scrap" lived and breathed Penn State. After playing there, Bradley joined Joe Paterno's staff in 1979, and would remain there for 33 seasons. He started as a graduate assistant and finished as the interim head coach in 2011. No person alive has coached in more Penn State games than Bradley, who was part of two national championships and 26 bowl teams there.

But when Penn State hired Bill O'Brien to be its head coach following the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Bradley resigned and became a broadcast analyst, notably covering Army football games.

Other opportunities to coach elsewhere came along over the past three years. Bradley, however, was waiting for the right one.

And when West Virginia asked him to be its senior associate head coach, Bradley finally pounced.

"It was just a great opportunity," he said. "It's very close to where I live (in Pittsburgh). I understand it. I'm not going to a totally different environment that I don't get. Coach (Dana) Holgorsen and (athletic director) Oliver Luck, when they talked to me about this opportunity, it was just something I couldn't pass up.

"This was the right fit."

Bradley just might be the right fit for the Mountaineers, too.

West Virginia has struggled in the Big 12, especially on the defensive side. Through two different coordinators, the Mountaineers have ranked ninth and eighth in total defense, which is a major reason why they've gone 6-12 in two seasons in the league.

After Keith Patterson bolted for Arizona State, Holgorsen promoted safeties coach Tony Gibson to become West Virginia's fourth defensive coordinator in as many years. Gibson and Bradley have known each other for years, developing a friendship while squaring off in Pennsylvania for the state's top recruits. Gibson's promotion is another reason why Bradley felt West Virginia was the place he needed to be. And the combination of the two could form the coaching chemistry that finally turns the Mountaineers' defense around.

"Tony is a first-year defensive coordinator and has a plan with what he wants to do and we're very comfortable with his plan," Holgorsen said. "But having a confident, well-respected coach like Tom Bradley that understands the game, what makes kids tick, gives you a backup defensive coordinator in the room. Coach Bradley being able to game plan each week, helping Tony with that, kind of figure out what offenses are trying to get accomplished. ...I think it will pay dividends."

Bradley admits there's been an adjustment. He knew the entire Penn State defensive scheme by heart, but has had to consult the West Virginia playbook occasionally this fall. But Bradley has instantly impressed the players this preseason with his energy, knowledge and confidence.

"He's just a natural leader," veteran defensive lineman Kyle Rose recently said to reporters. "He's doesn't get mad at you too much, but you can tell when he does get mad that he means business. He's a once-in-a-lifetime coach, after coaching that many guys in the NFL and having years of coaching experience.

"A great addition to us."

Bradley coached many great players and won many big games at Penn State over the years. He's hoping he can bring the same to his second football home.

"I'm here to help this team win," he said. "To help honest to goodness anyway I can. No task is too small. Whatever they need, I'm going to do it.

"The bottom line is to try and win some games."