- Associated Press - Thursday, November 10, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - Tom Bradley’s eyes welled up when he was asked about his former boss.

“Coach Paterno has meant more to me than anybody except my father,” Penn State’s first new football coach since 1966 said Thursday. “I don’t want to get emotional talking about that.”

There is not a person in Happy Valley more loyal to Joe Paterno than Bradley, now the Nittany Lions’ interim coach. The 84-year-old Paterno was fired late Wednesday night by the school’s board of trustees amid claims that he and other university officials did not do enough to report allegations of sexual abuse against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who is charged with assaulting eight children over a 15-year-period.

Bradley’s feelings about Paterno are unwavering.

“Coach Paterno will go down in history as one of the greatest men,” said Bradley, who has played and worked for Paterno for the last 35 years. “Most of you know him as a great football coach. I’ve had the privilege and honor to work for him, spend time with him. He’s had such a dynamic impact on so many, so many _ I’ll say it again _ so many people and players’ lives.

“It’s with great respect that I speak of him, and I’m proud to say that I’ve worked for him.”

Bradley, once considered the favorite in-house candidate to succeed Paterno in more routine fashion, was given the job of leading the Nittany Lions on Wednesday night with his school in turmoil.

“We’re obviously in a very unprecedented situation,” he said, sitting in the same spot where Paterno held court with the media for years. “I have to find a way to restore the confidence … it’s with very mixed emotions and heavy hearts that we go through this.”

History shows that replacing a revered and beloved coach can be one of the most difficult jobs in college football.

When Ohio State was looking for a replacement for Woody Hayes, fired after punching a Clemson player during the 1978 Gator Bowl, the story goes that Lou Holtz, then the coach at Arkansas, was asked about the job and said: “I don’t want to be the guy who follows Woody Hayes. I want to be the guy who follows the guy who follows Woody Hayes.”

Earle Bruce was the guy who replaced Hayes. Bruce was coach at Iowa State before being tapped by his alma mater in 1979. Like Bradley, Bruce worked and played for the man he was replacing. The Buckeyes faithful were skeptical.

“It’s always difficult to replace a legend because you’re always going to be compared to that legend,” said former Ohio State All-America linebacker Chris Spielman, now an analyst for ESPN who is working the Nebraska-Penn State game in Happy Valley on Saturday.

Bruce said he was fortunate because he had the support of the person who mattered most.

“To tell you the truth, coach Hayes made it an easy transition,” Bruce said in a phone interview Thursday. “The one thing you do need if the guy is going to be there, he better be supportive or that’s bad.”

Bruce went 81-26-1 in nine seasons at Ohio State, a terrific success at many schools. But he never won a national title and he never reached the status of Hayes with the Buckeyes.

Story Continues →