On Tuesday Pittsburgh Panthers football head coach Dave Wannstedt resigned from his position, possibly under pressure from the athletic department following a 7-5 regular season that was far from meeting expectations. The Panthers were named the preseason favorites in the Big East before the season but they will play in the BBVA Compass Bowl, the conference’s fifth bowl tie-in. As the national search for a new coach begins, the Pittsburgh program may not have to look all that far for the right choice. The ideal candidate, just as it was six years ago, may be found in State College, Pennsylvania.
Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will likely be one of the leading candidates for the job at Pittsburgh, a job he was thought to be ideal for in 2004 when Pittsburgh was searching for a new head coach and ultimately decided on Wannstedt, a Pitt alum and former Panther offensive lineman.
Bradley has established a good track record of recruiting in the Pittsburgh area and western Pennsylvania despite what Pittsburgh has tried to do to fortify the talent in their region. Bradley has strong relationships in the high schools and he is found in the region often enough during recruiting that he has become a favorite even among some Pitt fans. Should Bradley feel that he is ready for a head coaching opportunity, one that may not be as certain at Penn State as it once was, then Pitt would be a plausible scenario over the next month.
Bradley is given credit for helping to reshape the Penn State program after the Nittany Lions suffered through a couple losing seasons in the past decade. As Paterno has allowed his assistants to take on more of an active role in the program Bradley is recognized as the leader of the assistants. Many feel he is capable of taking on a program of his own and Bradley will be one of the candidates for the coaching vacancy when the time comes at Penn State. Other names that have been mentioned in an unofficial capacity have included Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and Temple coach Al Golden.
But if Bradley is already settled in at Pittsburgh the chances he would be likely to return to Penn State may be dim at best. The question is whether or not Bradley wants Pittsburgh as much as Pittsburgh may want Bradley. Pittsburgh athletic director Steven Pederson has stated that the school will begin a national search but has not mentioned any names that are on his initial short list. Asked if he would consider an assistant coach for the job Pederson said he would review all of their options, though he did note that a coach with head coaching experience would be preferred. Don’t be surprised if Bradley is on Pederson’s short list.
Imagine if Bradley does become the next head coach at Pittsburgh. He would be likely to dominate the recruiting in western Pennsylvania for starters. Would any assistants at Penn State make the move with him? If Larry Johnson Sr. were to go to Pittsburgh with Bradley for a defensive coordinator role he would also take some influence in Maryland and Virginia recruiting, an area he has been noted to excel in. Who else would leave Penn State, if anyone? It is all hypothetical at this juncture but the coaching search at Pittsburgh will be something all Penn State fans will want to be monitoring closely.
Not to be overlooked is the news from Lions247 that Penn State linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden is actively pursuing the head coaching vacancy at Ball State. Vanderlinden has spent the past ten years as apart of Paterno’s coaching staff. Before coming to Penn State Vanderlinden was a head coach at Maryland for three years. Ball State is also where Vanderlinden received his first full time coaching job following stints as a graduate assistant at Bowling Green and Michigan. Ball State has Vanderlinden serve two years as an offensive coordinator (1981-82).