SAN ANTONIO - Penn State fans can breathe easy, for now - defensive coordinator Tom Bradley apparently won't be leaving Happy Valley to become the head coach at West Virginia.

But that's not to say that Bradley, a former Penn State player and an assistant on Joe Paterno's staff for the past 29 years, isn't ready to run his own program.

Bradley is here with the Nittany Lions (8-4) for tomorrow night's Alamo Bowl game with Texas A&M (7-5).

Speculation that Bradley might be on the move arose this week when the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported he had been contacted by an "intermediary" to sound out his possible interest in becoming the successor to Rich Rodriguez, who left to become the head coach at Michigan.

It now appears that West Virginia has targeted first-year Central Michigan coach Butch Jones, who flew to Morgantown, W.Va., yesterday, the day after the Chippewas lost, 51-48, to Purdue in the Motor City Bowl. This would be Jones' second interview for the position, so there is strong mutual interest.

Jones has strong ties to WVU - he was an assistant there for 2 years - as do the two other men most frequently mentioned to fill the vacancy: Florida associate head coach John "Doc" Holliday and former Auburn coach Terry Bowden. Holliday is a former West Virginia linebacker and was an assistant coach there from 1979 to '99. Bowden, son of Florida State coach and former WVU coach Bobby Bowden, was a backup running back with the Mountaineers in 1977 and '78.

"I'm flattered that I'm mentioned in those circles," Bradley said yesterday of the rumors linking him to West Virginia. "I'm in that area a lot [as a recruiter], so it's not surprising.

"Sometimes rumors take off like wildfire and they keep growing and growing until they seem real. But I don't worry. These guys [Penn State players] know where my heart is."

There are those who wonder why Paterno, who turned 81 on Dec. 21, has not publicly come out for Bradley as Florida State officials did for Seminoles offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who recently was named "head coach in waiting" and eventual successor to the 78-year-old Bobby Bowden. But Bradley said he has not sought any such assurances that he'll someday be Paterno's replacement.

"I keep telling Joe he can go until he's 100," Bradley said. "That's fine by me. I'm just happy to have a job. I work for a great guy, in a great program, alongside a bunch of great coaches. I like what I'm doing and I'm happy."

Junior linebacker Sean Lee said Bradley's resumé is such that he should draw interest from other schools in the market for a head coach.

"If a situation comes up where he could be a head coach, I'd be completely supportive of that," Lee said. "I think it's just a matter of time before he's a successful head coach. Where and when that is, I don't know. But when his time comes to be a head coach, wherever it is, he'll be ready for it."

Flushed from the pocket

If Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli can avoid the Texas A&M pass rush as successfully as he has scrambled away from the media for the past 7 weeks, the Aggies won't lay a hand on him.

Morelli's last spoke to reporters on Nov. 10, following the Lions' 31-0 shutout of Temple at Lincoln Financial Field. He was scheduled to appear at a Wednesday media session with several other Penn State offensive players, but was again a no-show, giving rise to speculation that he had wearied of criticism of his play and put himself off-limits to would-be interrogators.

But Morelli didn't seem particularly uptight when he showed up yesterday at a press conference attended by several members of the Penn State defense.

"I had plans to go to Sea World with my family," he said of his AWOL turn on Wednesday. "[Penn State officials] wanted me here, but it just didn't work out. It's not a big deal. Better late than never."

Morelli, a senior, said he had accepted an invitation to play in the 83rd annual East-West Shrine Game, Jan. 19 in Houston, but his only focus for now is on beating the Aggies.

"I just want to win the football game," he said. "That's all I want. I want to go out with a win, just like at Senior Day [a 26-19 victory over Purdue on Nov. 3], my last game at Beaver Stadium."

The deer hunter

If Texas A&M quarterback Stephen McGee is as accurate a passer as he is with a rifle, the Lions could be in peril.

Asked what he planned to do after the Alamo Bowl, McGee, a junior from Burnet, Texas, said he hoped to get in some deer hunting before he had surgery to get an unspecified injury "cleaned up."

"This is football," he said. "You don't sign up unless you expect to get the crap knocked out of you every now and then."

And the best way to alleviate some of that football-related tension, McGee said, is to blow holes in something with antlers.

"I've been doing it since I was a real little boy," he said. "I guess that's just something that Texas boys do.

"I love it. I'll go out and hunt anything that moves. I'm a big blaster and I just let 'em have it, man. It's very relaxing for me."

Agenda

What: ALAMO BOWL

Who: Texas A&M vs. Penn State

When: Tomorrow, 8 p.m.

Where: The Alamodome, San Antonio

TV: ESPN

Radio: WNTP (990-AM); WNPV (1440-AM)

Records: Texas A&M 7-5, Penn State 8-4

Coaches Gary Darnell (interim coach; 0-0 at Texas A&M, 52-79 in 11-plus seasons overall); Joe Paterno, 42nd season, 371-125-3)

History: Penn State leads the series, 2-1, one of those victories coming in the only previous Alamo Bowl matchup, in 1999, when the Nittany Lions shut out the Aggies, 24-0. All-America linebacker LaVar Arrington was huge in that game, recording 14 tackles and a sack, as well as helping force three interceptions with crunching hits on A&M quarterback Randy McCown.

About Texas A&M: Gary Darnell is serving as an interim coach for the second time. He was 3-4 at Florida in 1989 after replacing the fired Galen Hall, who now is Penn State's offensive coordinator ... Darnell calls Mark Dodge, 26, and Misi Tupe, 25, the "Geritol Gang." And why not? At a combined 51, they're the oldest pair of starting linebackers in the nation. Dodge served in the military before enrolling in college, and Tupe served a Mormon mission before joining the Aggies ... Martellus Bennett needs five catches to surpass the school record for career receptions by a tight end. Rod Bernstine caught 105 passes from 1982-85 ... A&M's schedule was rated the second-toughest in the nation by the NCAA.

About Penn State: The suspension of starter Chris Baker, along with the season-ending ankle injury suffered by starter Jared Odrick against Indiana on Oct. 20, has left the Lions dangerously thin at defensive tackle - not the best of situations against a team that runs the ball as effectively as the Aggies. "We used to have a lot of depth [at DT]," said defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. "We don't have as much depth anymore" ... QB Anthony Morelli has moved within 172 yards of breaking Kerry Collins' school season record of 2,679 yards, set in 1994 ... LB Sean Lee donned a wetsuit and hitched a ride on the dorsal fin of a beluga whale during a Wednesday excursion to Sea World. "I've never been up close to anything as huge as that," Lee said. How about 6-4, 335-pound defensive tackle Phillip Taylor? "Uh, it was close," Lee said, smiling.

Prediction

Penn State, 24-17.