West Virginia Mountaineers Football: How Tom Bradley Will Change The Mountaineer Defense

Jeff Swensen

The Tom Bradley hiring was publicly lauded as a positive one for the West Virginia coaching staff. But what can Mountaineer fans expect from Bradley going forward?

I grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania. Reading is located in eastern Pennsylvania, about two and a half hours from State College, PA, home of Penn State University. My Dad is a Penn State graduate, and so I spent my time growing up around the Penn State football program. In my lifetime, there were two consistencies with PSU; Joe Paterno and Tom Bradley.

For many years, as Paterno began to age and garner more and more criticism, the Penn State fan base collectively viewed Tom Bradley as the natural replacement for Paterno as head football coach. Fast forward through the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and the fallout of the entire coaching staff included the firing of Bradley.

On February 21, Bradley was hired by Dana Holgorsen as Senior Associate Head Coach. His duties include working with the Defensive Line. In his 26 years at Penn State, Bradley worked with the Outside Linebackers, Defensive Backs, and was finally promoted to Defensive Coordinator for his last 11 years. Bradley brings experience with all three units of the defense and expertise gained working under a legendary college coach.

From 2004 to 2011 Penn State’s defense ranked 3rd in the nation in Scoring Defense (16.4 ppf) and was 5th in Total Defense (298.7ypg). In 2009, the Nittany Lions ranked in the Top 15 nationally in the six primary defensive categories. Bradley and Paterno preferred the 4-3 defense, giving responsibilities to their linebackers to make plays through gaps or drop into coverage. Bradley has developed All-American linebackers in Lavar Arrington, Brandon Short, Paul Posluszny, and Sean Lee, as well as All-Big Ten players Dan Conner and Shane Conlin. In 2005, Bradley was named the Associated Press' Defensive Coordinator of the Year and one of the top 10 recruiters in the country by Sports Illustrated.

After leaving Penn State, Bradley interviewed with the University of Pittsburgh and Temple University for their head coach openings, but was turned down for both. Eventually, this time line brought Bradley to the Mountaineers, to help shape a defense that finished 9th in the Big 12 in total defense and points allowed. The Mountaineer defense will be returning standouts Ishmael Banks, Isaiah Bruce, Karl Joseph, Jared Barber and Nick Kwiatkoski. Last year, the Mountaineers primarily played a 3-4 defensive scheme. Bradley has little experience working with a 3-4 defense, and it looks as though newly appointed defensive coordinator Tony Gibson will keep this scheme and add elements of the old, familiar 3-3-5. The learning curve may hold Bradley back early on, but working with Gibson throughout the summer and into fall practice will catch Bradley up to speed in time for the regular season.

While Gibson is defensive coordinator, look for Bradley's influence to grow throughout the year. 2014 is a defining year for the Holgorsen era and could potentially be the last if there is not significant improvement upon last year's 4-8 record. If things start poorly for the inexperienced Gibson and the Mountaineer defense early on, Holgorsen may start to feel real pressure and have no other choice but to turn to the tested Bradley to turn things around.

The hiring of Tom Bradley is a strong one for WVU. He brings experience in all aspects of the defense and invaluable recruiting expertise. By the end of the 2014 season, in title or not, look for Bradley to be the guy calling the shots for the Mountaineer defense. Dana Holgorsen's job may depend on it.

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