Tom Bradley takes over, respectfully, for fired Joe Paterno
The world is watching Penn State as it reels from the firing of Joe Paterno and an unfolding child sex-abuse scandal engulfing the university. They're also watching its students. And they're watching its legendary football program head into Saturday against Nebraska under almost unimaginable media scrutiny.
Into this lion's den strolled interim Penn State coach Tom Bradley. He held a no-nonsense news conference Thursday morning during which he attempted to shove the media back in place and called on students and players alike to "show class, show dignity" and to keep focused on victory at Saturday's showdown.
Bradley said he was operating on zero sleep, but he didn't seem the worse for wear.
He steadfastly refused to give in to reporters' badgering to address the ongoing controversy -- even as he walked the fine line of paying deference to Paterno while refusing to criticize the administration that fired the legendary coach late Wednesday. That firing had led some students to riot in the streets.
"The expectations are the expectations: We're not going to waver from that," Bradley said of Saturday's game, making it clear that victory was the only reasonable outcome even in the face of such unprecedented attention. "They will come to play on Saturday," he promised of his players.
Bradley said he also realized that his job as interim coach goes far beyond one game, with some people speculating that the scandal has effectively destroyed Penn State's football program for years to come.
"We'll find a way to heal, we'll find a way to get back on track," Bradley promised. "I'm going to find a way to restore the confidence and start the healing process," he added.
As for fears that student rioting could threaten Saturday's game, Bradley issued this challenge to students and supporters alike: "Let's show them what Penn State is really all about ... we show class, we show dignity, let's show what we really are all about."
Bradley let down his tough-as-nails exterior just a bit when he found himself addressing Paterno the man and the coach -- not a figure near the center of an unfolding child abuse sex-scandal.
"Coach Paterno has meant more to me than anybody except my father. I don't want to get emotional and start talking about that," he said, doing just that.
But taking a moment to polish up Paterno's legacy apparently proved too hard to resist.
Bradley called Paterno "one of the greatest men" he'd had the privilege of knowing. "He's had such a dynamic impact on so many ... people and players' lives. It is with great respect that I speak of him, and I'm proud to say I work for him," Bradley said. It did not go unnoticed that Bradley used the present tense.
Reporters asked Bradley whether he planned to talk to Paterno in advance of Saturday's game.
Bradley said he already knew what Paterno would say: "'Just stay focused on the task at hand. Take care of the kids. Take care of the team. I'm OK.'" Bradley added: "He would say 'Get back and do what you are supposed to do.'"
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Photo: Penn State interim football coach Tom Bradley addresses the media Thursday morning. Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images