How Good is Tom Bradley?

Feb. 25 -- We take a look at the new defensive coordinator's resume and compare it to the resumes of UCLA defensive coordinators past...

We’ll start by saying this: it’s hard to conceive of another defensive coordinator in UCLA history who has walked into the job as accomplished as Tom Bradley. Bradley spent 32 years at Penn State, 12 as defensive coordinator, and was widely acknowledged to be one of the top defensive coordinators in the country during his years at Penn State.

Here’s a quick look at how Bradley’s defenses performed during his time at Penn State. We’ve used Yard Per Play to give a general impression of the defense, Sack Percentage to give an idea of how much pressure Bradley likes to bring, and Rush Yards Per Attempt to give an impression of how well his defenses have accomplished their typical main goal.
YearYards Per Play AllowedSack PercentageOpponent Rush Yards Per CarryOffensive Performance?
20114.6 (13th)6.70% (30th)3.7 (36th)Below Average Offense
20105.4 (60th)4.68% (90th)4.7 (85th)Decent Offense
20094.3 (10th)7.98% (16th)2.9 (10th)Good Offense
20084.3 (7th)7.07% (21st)2.9 (8th)Very Good Offense
20074.3 (6th)9.52% (6th)2.7 (5th)Good Offense
20064.3 (11th)8.02% (30th)2.9 (11th)Mediocre Offense
20054.1 (4th)8.23% (12th)2.6 (5th)Good Offense
20044.4 (14th)5.79% (67th)3.6 (39th)Mediocre Offense
20034.8 (34th)5.76% (64th)4.3 (78th)Dreadful Offense
20024.6 (NR)7.15% (NR)3.1 (NR)Good Offense
20015.8 (NR)6.55% (NR)4.4 (NR)Dreadful offense
20004.9 (NR)7.73% (NR)3.6 (NR)Dreadful Offense
A few notes:

*We didn’t have ranking data for the 2000 through 2002 seasons, but you can guess from these numbers that the 2002 defense likely ranked among the nation’s elite, while 2000’s defense was also likely a good one.

*We’ve included how the offense performed each year to give some context for what his defense was doing. By and large, Bradley’s defenses carried Penn State through the resurgence the Nittany Lions had during the 2000s, when Penn State only had five offenses we would call “good”.

*It’s probably fair to say that Bradley isn’t a high-volume blitzer, but his sack percentage numbers are more than respectable. The only year where he had a sack percentage well below average was 2010 (statistically the second worst year for his defense), and more often than not, his defenses have been ranked in the top quarter or so in sack percentage.

*Bradley’s stretch from 2004 to 2009 ranks among the best runs for a defensive coordinator in the last ten years, just going by the eyeball test of looking at some of the other top defenses in the country during that period. Through that six year stretch, his defenses never ranked below 14th in yards per play allowed, which is an uncanny level of consistency. That run was built in large part on an elite run defense that had a median ranking of 9th during that six year period.

*In eight of his 12 years as defensive coordinator, Bradley fielded a defense that ranked at least in the top quartile of college football in yards per play (we’re guessing on 2002, but we’re pretty sure it did), and in all but one year (2001, his second on the job), his defenses ranked in the top half.

So, we can safely say Bradley has a deserved reputation as a very good coordinator, with some absolutely elite years on his resume. Now, keep those numbers in mind when we take a look at UCLA's history on defense.

YearYards Per Play AllowedSack PercentageOpponent Rush Yards Per CarryCoordinator
20145.0 (34th)5.51% (82nd)3.8 (32nd)Ulbrich
20134.9 (22nd)6.64% (39th)3.9 (42nd)Spanos
20125.4 (51st)8.94% (6th)4.1 (56th)Spanos
20115.8 (87th)2.89% (111th)5.2 (106th)Tresey (lol)
20106.0 (93rd)6.49% (42nd)5.4 (109th)Bullough
20095.0 (40th)6.38% (48th)4.0 (57th)Bullough
20085.0 (48th)5.11% (64th)4.4 (86th)Walker
20074.4 (13th)7.20% (30th)3.1 (14th)Walker
20064.6 (25th)8.68% (15th)2.8 (7th)Walker
20055.9 (101st)5.75% (46th)5.4 (116th)Kerr
20045.7 (83rd)4.90% (93rd)5.1 (111th)Kerr
20034.4 (19th)6.64% (44th)3.2 (21st)Kerr
20025.1 (NR)8.66% (NR)3.5 (NR)Snow
20014.7 (NR)Stats Missing3.3 (NR)Snow
20005.4 (NR)5.18% (NR)4.4 (NR)Field
19995.8 (NR)5.05% (NR)4.5 (NR)Field
So...that's a whole lot of crap. You have a few very good defenses in there (Kerr's first year had a lot of talent, so they out-performed their coaching by a fair margin), but mostly UCLA has turned out wildly poor defenses, particularly given the talent that UCLA has generally been able to recruit. If you're going purely based on the results here, Dewayne Walker was clearly the best coordinator UCLA had in the last 16 years. His 2006-07 stretch was especially excellent when you consider that those offenses during the period were pretty mediocre. So, Walker's era looks a little rosier in retrospect. The rest is a veritable menagerie of suck, but we do want to draw your attention, for a second, to the incomparable Joe Tresey's sack percentage number in 2011. That kind of number doesn't just happen, kids. It takes effort.

Not one of UCLA's defensive coordinators has had anywhere near the resume, coming into the job, that Bradley has. In fact, with each of the last four defensive coordinators, their position at UCLA was their first time coordinating a defense. And clearly, UCLA has had some pretty significant failures on the defensive side of the ball during the same period that Bradley had elite defenses at Penn State.

It would be foolish to predict anything in terms of defensive improvement at this point, but if you're judging by resumes and track record, Bradley has the best chance for success of any UCLA defensive coordinator in a long, long time.

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