Even in defeat, Penn State interim head coach Tom Bradley tried to maintain his sense of humor.
"This is going to be awesome," he said as he sat down for his postgame press conference following his Nittany Lions' 30-14 loss against Houston on Monday in the TicketCity Bowl.
Bradley has long been known as one to try to maintain levity in any situation during his 30-plus years in Happy Valley as both a player and an assistant coach. On Monday, however, there weren't many jokes to follow that one.
The defeat, after all, could prove to be the final game Bradley, 55, ever coaches on a Penn State sideline. With acting athletic director David Joyner and his six-person search committee actively seeking a replacement for former coach Joe Paterno, fired on Nov. 9 of last year in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, the odds of the former Lions defensive defensive back being retained seem remote, and he strongly acknowledged as much afterward.
"Well, obviously we're going to have a new football coach here next year, for sure, whoever that may be," Bradley said.
Was that a concession he won't be Penn State's coach going forward? When pressed, Bradley said he does not yet know if Joyner and Co. will go in another direction. If they do, though, it was quite a run for the Johnstown native. A member of Penn State's 1982 and 1986 national championship teams as an assistant, Bradley became Paterno's defensive coordinator in 2000 following Sandusky's retirement in 1999.
Since then, his defensive unit has been ranked No. 11 or better nationally in points allowed per game in eight of the last nine seasons, and even in times when the Lions' offense sputtered, Bradley's unit kept Penn State in games it had no business being in a position to win. His reign as defensive coordinator included a pair of Big Ten championships, an Orange Bowl victory in 2005 and Penn State's first Rose Bowl appearance since 1994 back in 2008 to go with four bowl victories.
However, it appears it all could be coming to an end in a far more straining and soul-crushing manner than anyone could have imagined just two months ago. With the Sandusky scandal hanging over Penn State like a cloud, there would have been few good feelings, even had the Lions found a way to take down the Cougars at Cotton Bowl Stadium.The loss simply rips open wounds that were just beginning to heal.
Bradley and his assistants plan on hanging in with the team through the end of the coaching search, though. His plan is to hit the road for recruiting this coming week, after the team returns to State College.
"I've told you I'm going to work until the very end, until they tell me my services are no longer needed," Bradley said. "That's what Penn State's paying me to do, and that's what's in my heart that I'm going to do because I love this university and I love the people."
That's been Bradley's philosophy in sticking with Penn State when times were good, and better career opportunities were knocking on his door. Now, in the worst of times for the program, perhaps his loyalty will earn him the job he's spent his life working toward.
If it doesn't, it's likely Penn State fans will remember him all the fonder for it.