Tom Bradley, UCLA’s first-year defensive coordinator, continues to assimilate to Southern California.
“I haven’t had anyone blow their horn at me on the freeway for a long time,” Bradley said. However, “I have to figure out what those motorcycles are doing weaving in and out of lanes.”
His move from western Pennsylvania to West Los Angeles has brought a major lifestyle change. Bradley spent three decades playing and coaching at Penn State, and he likes to joke about culture shock in his soft-spoken but rapid-fire way.
Bradley was regarded as one of the best defensive coordinators in the nation four years ago, before the Jerry Sandusky scandal resulted in housecleaning in State College.
Everyone had to go, even those who were not implicated in the case in which Sandusky, who was also a Penn State assistant, was found guilty of sexually molesting boys.
That left Bradley out of coaching for the first time since 1978, when he carried the nickname “Scrap” as a defensive back for the Nittany Lions.
UCLA Coach Jim Mora wanted to hire Bradley in 2012. But the Sandusky situation was still unfolding so the idea was nixed by the administration. When the defensive coordinator position opened again last winter, UCLA officials gave the go-ahead.
Now Bradley may be the right man in the right place at the right moment.
“Tom is the kind of guy who looks at the personnel and figures out what we can do better,” Mora said. “He doesn’t let ego get in the way, where he says, ‘I have all these great ideas,’ and then it doesn’t really work. His ego is getting guys in position to play.”
A year ago, the Bruins gave up 30 or more points eight times. UCLA nearly let double-digit leads get away against California and Colorado, two lesser teams. The Bruins led Kansas State, 31-6, at halftime of the Alamo Bowl and hung on for a 40-35 victory.
The visual for the volatile season on that side of the ball was defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich’s animated confrontation with Mora on the sideline against Oregon.
A calm and steady hand seemed needed, and that’s what the Bruins got.
“When Coach Bradley first came in everyone was a little uptight,” linebacker Deon Hollins said. “He was from the East Coast, Penn State. They have this very regimented, solid program. We were kind iffy about what we were getting into. But he was this down-to-earth, super-nice guy, full of humor.”
Bradley has a history of forging solid relationships with his players. “One of the most impressive things about Tom is that four or five of his former players have had him in their wedding,” Mora said. “Not at the wedding, but as a member of their wedding party.”
He also has a history of forging solid defenses. Penn State gave up an average of 16.4 points a game from 2004 to ’11, which is another reason Bradley, before the housecleaning, had been viewed as the heir apparent to Joe Paterno as Penn State’s head coach.
Bradley said Paterno was his mentor and that he was “blessed” to “be with a guy who taught me so many things about life.”
Bradley has tried to bury the Sandusky chapters in the past. “I think all those questions have been answered years ago,” he said. “I’m here to help UCLA and help these players be the best they can be.”
Getting to Westwood took a journey.
Bradley was out of coaching, but not out of football. He worked for CBS Sports and did radio for the Pittsburgh Steelers for two years. It gave him a different perspective.
Mora, who spent three years with the NFL Network after being fired by the Seattle Seahawks in 2009, understood. And he also understood Bradley still had a void to fill.
“The toughest thing is that after a broadcast you have neither won nor lost,” Mora said. “I have to compete.”
Bradley’s affinity toward Penn State and Paterno remained, but he had to watch from the outside as his mentor retired and as the program was torn apart and outsiders were brought in to pick up the pieces.
“When you’ve been in a place a long time you have so many memories of different things that happened and all the experiences,” Bradley said. “It comes back. All the players still check in with me to see how I’m doing.”
He says he’s doing fine. Bradley spent the 2014 season as assistant head coach at West Virginia, then decided to join Mora’s staff.
In Bradley, Mora said he got a coach “whose philosophies aligned with mine.”
His style is different, though. Unlike the fiery Mora, Bradley usually goes unnoticed and unheard during practice.
“He’s very subtle about everything,” safety Randall Goforth said. “I think he gets that from the Paterno era.”
It works for Bradley. UCLA’s defense during training camp has looked more aggressive than in the past.
“He definitely gets straight to the point and things get done,” Goforth added, “and get done right.”