NEW YORK - Shane Conlan likely would not have been the 23d member of the Penn State football program inducted into the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame if not for assistant coach Tom Bradley.
Conlan, a linebacker, had received no offers from any NCAA Division I-A school during a fine career at Frewsburg Central (N.Y.) High School until Bradley came calling, and the longtime assistant to Joe Paterno remained persistent and finally persuaded his boss to offer him a scholarship.
The Penn State coaches made the right choice. Conlan was a three-year starter and a consensus first-team all-American in 1986, when the Nittany Lions capped an undefeated season by intercepting Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde five times and defeating top-ranked Miami, 14-10, in the Fiesta Bowl.
Bradley, now an assistant coach at West Virginia, came to New York on Monday to attend a reception for Conlan.
"That was the highlight, Tom Bradley taking time out of his busy schedule and coming," Conlan said Tuesday at the Waldorf Astoria, the venue for the NFF annual dinner that night.
"There was nobody recruiting me except for Penn State. I got turned down by Syracuse, Ohio State . . . but thanks to Tom, he kept fighting the good fight and I was very fortunate he kept at it."
Conlan, who lives in Sewickley, Pa., and works for the Pittsburgh Power of the Arena Football League, went on to a nine-year career in the NFL. He said he'd have about 30 people at the dinner, including his parents, his wife, two brothers, and one sister. But he would have liked Paterno, who died in January 2012 of cancer, to be there as well.
"There's a sadness that it kind of brings out because right before he passed, he wrote a letter to nominate me," he said. "Obviously he was a wonderful coach . . . but he didn't care about [the wins]. He cared about molding young men. I think that's the most important thing. He knew that not every kid was going to play in the NFL, but he got them prepared for life."
Conlan said he recognized the challenge for the coaches who have succeeded Paterno - Bill O'Brien and current head man James Franklin, whom he met face-to-face Monday night for the first time.
"I know Bill went through that criticism of, 'You're not doing it the way that Joe used to do it,' " he said. "I got in so many arguments with people. I'd say, 'Listen, this is his program now, it's not about the coaches. He's going to run it his way.'
"I'm sure James is going through the same thing. Everybody is going to criticize. It's his program and he knows what he's doing. He's won at every level, so I think he'll be all right."
After his first in-person meeting with Franklin, Conlan said, "I was really blown away.
"It's like he was shot out of a cannon, my God. You see him on TV and stuff, but he's really just a down-to-earth nice guy."
Conlan is part of a 16-member class of inductees for 2014 that includes former coach Mike Bellotti, who preceded Eagles coach Chip Kelly at Oregon, and former Eagles safety John Sciarra, who played at UCLA.
"It's obviously the who's-who of college football," he said. "Even the guys that were nominated [and not selected] were really incredible. When you think back, and I see all these guys that are going in, you realize you're not up to the task, No. 1, and No. 2, you're honored to even be in the same breath with those guys."
2014 College Football Hall of Fame Inductees
Darrin Nelson Stanford
Leonard Smith McNeese State
Derrick Thomas* Alabama
LaDainian Tomlinson TCU
Oregon; Chico State, Calif.
Texas Tech, Appalachian State