By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University’s football team had that Wheeling feeling on Saturday, loaded the team up on three or four busses and moved spring practice block, stock and tackle to Wheeling Island Stadium before a couple of thousand enthusiastic fans willing to forgive and forget last year’s 4-8 debacle.
“We might come up here every day if the weather is like this,” joked head coach Dana Holgorsen after enjoying an afternoon that actually seemed like spring.
“Our guys are excited about this. The idea originated because spring practice gets redundant. To be able to change things up a little bit is good for our guys.”
As practices go it was, well, practice … the kind of thing that spring is for, which is mostly making mistakes and correcting them, but this public practice had a distinctively different touch, although it may not really have been visible to eye.
Running the defensive line through their stunts was the newest member of the coaching staff, Tom Bradley, although it certainly isn’t fair to label him as a “rookie” considering he spent 33 years at Penn State.
“It’s interesting,” Bradley said following practice as he met with the real Mountaineer maniacs – the media – for the first time since his hire. “Someone laid on me today that I have more games on the sideline at Penn State than any living human being. Joe Paterno is one and I’m two. No one is going to catch me until I pass away unless I live a long time.”
And talking with Bradley, you get the idea that he’s in for a long life, as much as he seems to enjoy it.
Friendly, funny, full of … anecdotes and possessor of a killer Joe Paterno imitation, or so it’s rumored, is Bradley.
“I do a real good one, but not in front of you guys,” he said. “Maybe in private, but not here. I think anyone who played there can do it, anyone who coached there can do it, but 33 years there I think I have it down pat now.”
Who knows, maybe 33 years from now he’ll have his Holgorsen imitation down, but that is going to take a change in the Mountaineers record … and Bradley says that’s what he’s here to help do.
“Whatever I can do to help them win … big way, small way, no way … whatever I can do to help win, that’s what I will do,” he said.
He certainly should have some ideas of what it takes to win, considering how dominant Penn State was under Paterno when he was coaching there. What, if anything, was the secret?
“It was a very family-oriented atmosphere up there. We got along with each other so well. When Joe looked at me for certain things, I knew what that meant,” Bradley said.
That family atmosphere went through the staff and the team, and that made coaching so much easier for they were friends first, then co-workers and coaches and players.
It’s an attitude he’d like to help develop at West Virginia as part of the overall package he brings with him, which is the whole deal except experience as a head coach beyond serving as interim coach when Paterno was fired for his part in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Not getting the job as Paterno’s successor had to have bothered him terribly, but you are not going to get him to talk about, not until and if he writes his book.
We know, because he was asked to talk about it and declined.
“Let’s talk about West Virginia,” he said. “It’s about these players. It’s their time. They’re excited. They’re coming off a 4-8 season. They want to do better.”
He resigned when he didn’t get the job, went to work with CBS, which he said he enjoyed, and doing the Steelers.
But Bradley also admitted he missed coaching, as you can imagine he did, because that is where you build up the closest relationships and get to use your brain rather than your voice, and using the brain is always far more fulfilling unless your name is Sinatra.
See, it’s better to be part of the Penn State-West Virginia rivalry, as he was back when Penn State never lost to the Mountaineers …
“Didn’t they beat us in ’84 and ’88?” he said, interrupting, knowing it right off the top of his head.
The domination by the Nittany Lions set up an interesting scenario, that being that it seemed to be far more of a rivalry game at WVU than it was at Penn State, but Bradley says no.
“It was absolutely a rivalry game,” he said. “That’s one of the things we miss out on. The kids at West Virginia, Pitt and Penn State, they all knew each other. If you lost and went home, your summer was awful. Pitt would play ‘The Year of the Cat,’ and if we lost we had to listen to that all the time.
“That was the beauty of those games. You could hear them talking during stretch before the game. They knew each other because they played together when they were younger or against them in high school.”
And with that, Bradley hit on a point that will endear him to a whole lot of traditional fans, if not to his boss, Oliver Luck, who engineered WVU’s move to the Big 12 while Pitt was going to the ACC and Penn State to the Big 10.
“Don’t get me started,” Bradley said. “All we hear is we’re trying to save money, we’re trying to save costs and we’re all in different places than we should be.”
Then he even offered a solution.
“Don’t you think we should just start all over? All of us. It makes all our jobs easier. The travel part, the expenses, all we’re going through now doesn’t make sense. We probably screwed it up.”
And, quite interestingly, it all may have been avoided if someone had listened to his former boss, Paterno, back three decades ago.
“Joe had that idea in ’81 or ’82. He wanted to get some other teams in it and control the New York market. Now what’s everyone want to do? Control the New York market. But it didn’t work out, for whatever reason.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.