Tom Bradley, Penn State's interim football coach, addresses the… (Gene J. Puskar / Associated…)
Tom Bradley always dreamed of replacing Joe Paterno as coach at Penn State, but never this way.
The occasion was supposed to be marked with balloons and bells, not a cellphone ring at 9:45 on a Wednesday night from interim Penn State President Rodney Erickson in the midst of a full-blown crisis.
The conversation was as blunt and short: Erickson offered Bradley the job and he accepted.
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"Coach Paterno has meant more to me than anybody except my father," said Bradley, a Penn State graduate in his 33rd year as an assistant coach. "I don't want to get emotional and start talking about that, OK?"
Bradley said Paterno would be remembered as "one of the greatest men."
Bradley's haggard, shell-shocked face at Thursday's introductory news conference told the story.
He had not slept all night.
Less than a week after longtime former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested on child sex-abuse charges, one of America's great college football franchises was in tatters.
The school president, vice president and athletic director were gone.
Paterno, the winningest coach in major college history, had been fired by the school's trustees.
Bradley, named as interim coach, inherits an 8-1 and nationally ranked program at the precipice of collapse.
"I take this job with very mixed emotions," Bradley said.
His first order was to restore order and prepare the team for Saturday's home against Nebraska.
Bradley gathered the team Thursday morning and said he told them: "Let's show class, let's show dignity and let's show what we're really all about."
At the news conference, Bradley was bombarded with questions.
No, he assured, Penn State seniors were not going to boycott Saturday's Senior Day game.
Yes, he said, Joe Paterno's son Jay, a longtime assistant coach, would be on the sideline.
Bradley said he was advised by legal counsel not to discuss the Sandusky case. The men coached together for 20 years. Did he not see any telltale signs?
Bradley did offer that he had no knowledge of alleged incidents involving Sandusky and young boys in 1998 and 2002.
Bradley did not know of any plans of players paying tribute to Paterno on Saturday.
"Obviously, if the players do a tribute, there's nothing I can do about that," he said.
Bradley said he expected Mike McQueary to be coaching the receivers during the game. McQueary, then a graduate assistant, reportedly witnessed the alleged 2002 incident with Sandusky in the shower of the team's football complex and later told Paterno what he saw.
Why was Paterno fired but McQueary allowed to stay?
"I'm not going to comment on that," Bradley said.
Hours later, Bradley had the decision taken out of his hands. The university announced that because of "multiple threats" it had decided it would be in the best interest of everyone that McQueary not attend the game.
The whirlwind was in full cycle.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, speaking on behalf of President Obama, said if the allegations at Penn State are true, "what happened is outrageous."
Pennsylvania's U.S. Senators, Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Bob Casey, said they were rescinding support for Paterno's nomination for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Already, the Penn State scandal has sparked calls for Pennsylvania to toughen its laws. State Rep. Kevin Boyle says he will introduce a bill that would require mandated reporters — including school and hospital employees — to notify police themselves rather than pass their information on to superiors at work.
Meantime, investigators reviewed video footage of students who could be charged with rioting or attempted arson in the post-Paterno firing aftermath.
Police said about 100 officers were deployed to disperse as many as 4,000 to 5,000 protesters. Some threw bottles and rocks and a television news van was overturned. Authorities would not say how many arrests had been made, but they said security would be beefed up on campus and around the football stadium Saturday.
Not far from campus, about a dozen television cameras lined up across the street from Paterno's house. Reporters stood restlessly, many of them with their hands in their pockets. A police car sat nearby.
At one point, a car pulled into Paterno's driveway. Reporters perked up, only to see the car back up, complete a three-point turn and head back toward campus.
Under an overcast sky, the campus was largely quiet Thursday.
"We still have classes to go to," said Brian McGovern, a second-year student majoring in marketing.
But life was far from normal.
On the steps of the same administrative building that was the center of the clash between students and police the previous night, the student body president spoke with several dozen student leaders by his side.
On the streets around campus, some students were interviewed by television reporters. News vans lined the front of the school.