By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
A day after snubbing the local media by not talking to them on an evening set aside for interviews with assistant coaches, West Virginia University’s latest defensive savior Tom Bradley found 14 minutes to talk to IMG Sports, which possesses the rights to West Virginia sports.
As advertised, he sounded like a nice enough guy to make you think that maybe there was some kind of misunderstanding that kept him from the weekly ‘we’re going to talk a lot and say nothing’ chat with those who scribble and hold microphones for a living.
To wit, so to speak, Bradley noted that he is happy with things to date, jokingly saying:
“No one has scored on us yet and we’re going to win the spring game, I can guarantee you that.”
As Bradley will soon learn, it ain’t that easy in the wide-open Big 12.
But the newly named senior associate head coach and defensive line coach, while admittedly not yet knowing his players’ names or the number of his athletic department issued cell phone, does have a pretty good grasp on how he wants to approach his new job.
That begins with erasing what transpired in the past, which is not a good idea when you are joining the defense that ranked No. 101 in total defense the previous season.
“The one thing I’m trying to do is I didn’t want to go back and look at tape of last year,” he said. “I didn’t want to have a preconceived notion of anybody. That way everyone is starting off the same way.”
In a way, while his players must get used to dealing with this veteran of 33 years of coaching at Penn State, much of that being with linebackers, who belong this year to newcomer Damon Cogdell, he too has a lot of getting used to ahead of him.
“I’ve been blessed to have coached all the positions but I really haven’t coached the defensive line since 1989. I had the defensive ends and the linebackers then,” he said.
Much has happened in college football since 1989. You might remember that year. Miami won the national championship, Andre Ware of Houston won the Heisman Trophy with a fellow named Major Harris finishing third.
WVU finished 21st nationally at 8-3-1, the tie being a memorable 31-31 battle with Pitt in the Backyard Brawl, which was played back in those dark ages. WVU also played Penn State and didn’t do much against Bradley’s defensive ends and linebackers, losing 19-9, but didn’t they always lose to Penn State?
Bradley recalls his many battles with the school from which he now draws his $600,000 paycheck from.
The one thing that has changed, when the scholarship limit started to change was that everyone got a piece of the pie.
“The one thing you knew when you came here was that the programs were similar in the pride the West Virginia fans took in their program, just like the Penn State fans did. There’s a great pride in this state for West Virginia football. They live and die West Virginia football, and you knew that when you came here,” he said.
“Being from Johnstown originally I know a lot about West Virginia. My dad took us to games down at old Mountaineer Field. I know the passion these people have. I understand it and I respect it.”
Bradley will be trying to feed that passion by working with the WVU defensive line and helping defensive coordinator Tony Gibson through the many pitfalls he’ll come across as a first-year coordinator.
The Mountaineers are going to play a 3-man front, and Bradley has his own ideas about that and has already begun passing it on to his players.
“If you are going to play this defense you have to be very – well, no, not very — extremely unselfish. These guys are the muckers and the grinders, like the fourth line in hockey. They have to do a lot of the dirty work. They have to go in and eat up people here and there,” he said.
“You have to understand what your role is, and you have to relish that role. It might not be the most glamorous role at all times, but if this defense has any chance of being good a lot of it will depend on their unselfishness. I try to sell them on the fact that we’ll be a good football team as long as no one cares who gets the credit.
“The other thing I think with defense that I have stressed with them so far is you have to remember that the best defense call played by the wrong people isn’t better than the wrong call played by the perfect people.
“Players make the scheme. You guys make the plays,” he concluded.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel