The Eagles are bringing Gus Bradley in for a second meeting on Tuesday. The team first met with him on Saturday, prior to the Seahawks playoff game in Atlanta. This time Gus is coming to Philly. That can be an important sign. He could be bringing the wife and kids to see the town and look at houses.
So let’s talk about Gus. His roots are in small school football. He played Safety for North Dakota State from 1984-88. That was a D2 school back then (now I-AA) and a powerhouse. They won National Titles in 1985, 1986, and 1988. Gus spent 1989 finishing his education and joined the coaching staff in 1990. The problem there is that you had to be a P.E. major to be a graduate assistant and Bradley had majored in business.
In 1992 he left to be the DC for Fort Lewis College, his first full-time coaching job. Bad news. I can’t seem to find Fort Lewis stats/info that far back. My apologies. Bradley got hired back at NDSU as the LBs coach in 1996. That coach left and was replaced by Bob Babich (who was the LBs coach for Lovie Smith). In 2004, Bradley was promoted to DC. He carried the title of assistant head coach for several years.
At some point Bradley became what is known as the pro liaison coach. This is the guy who NFL coaches and scouts call to get information on draft eligible players. Through that position Bradley started to talk to some NFL people. In 2005 Monte Kiffin, the DC for Tampa, called Bradley looking for a recommendation on another NDSU coach (Willie Mac Garza). The two men struck up a conversation on defense and became friendly. They talked a few more times and in 2006 Kiffin had a spot open on Tampa’s staff. Kiffin did some research on Bradley. A coach named Jimmy Burrow had worked with Bradley at NDSU and played for Kiffin at Nebraska back in the 1970s. At the time Burrow was the DC for Ohio University.
“I think he’s better than I am,” Burrow told Kiffin.
Kiffin hired Bradley to come in and be the quality control coach for the defense. This is an entry level position that involves a lot of research and isn’t very flashy, but Bradley thrived even in that role.
“He took it to another level. He would show the guy running the ball and then cutting into a hole,” Kiffin said, laughing. “You had to be there to see it. Shelton Quarles, Barrett Ruud, Derrick Brooks, they all couldn’t believe how good Gus was. When he walked in, he was one of the most popular guys in that building. And he was just a quality control coach! He has such a presence.”
In 2007 there was an opening for the LB coach on the Bucs staff and Bradley got it. He was the LBs coach for 2007 and 2008. The Tampa defense was 2nd in yards and 3rd in points in 2007. They were 9th and 10th in 2008. The defense had struggled in 2006 so this wasn’t a case of the unit rolling on with or without him. The only old school guys on those units were Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber.
Jon Gruden was fired at the end of 2008. Monte Kiffin was headed to college to coach with his lovely son Lane. Jim Mora (the younger) took over as HC in Seattle. Kiffin was friends with him from years ago and called up to suggest that Jim hire Bradley as his DC.
“Hey JL, listen to me. I have got a guy here in Tampa that is one of, if not the finest, football coaches I have ever worked with,” Mora recalled Kiffin saying. “He’s an A-plus. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime coach. You need to talk to him. His name’s Gus Bradley.”
Kiffin gushed enough that Mora decided he had to meet with Gus. Mora was supposed to leave town, but stayed and met with Bradley for 15 hours (see, Chip Kelly is a wimp).
“Through the course of the day, I realized, ‘Boy, Monte is dead-on. This guy is special.’ He’s grounded in fundamentals. He’s got great energy,” Mora said. “He has conviction about what he wants to do, coupled with the flexibility to be open to new ideas.”
Things didn’t go so well for Bradley or Mora in 2009. The team went 5-11. The defense was 24th in yards and 25th in points. In came Pete Carroll as the new HC. Carroll had been close with Monte Kiffin for 30 years. That was Pete’s mentor. Monte talked to Pete on the phone and sold him on Bradley. Pete said he was looking for a DC and Monte told him the answer was already in the building.
Pete watched film and talked to Bradley for about a week and decided to keep him as DC. I can’t tell you how unusual this is. Coordinators almost never survive a coaching change. Without a strong push from Kiffin, this probably never happens, but even so it really is a rare move and proves what a dynamic personality Bradley has.
Carroll and Bradley didn’t have a great defense in the first year together (27th, 25th), but they were trying to work with some older guys (Lawyer Milloy, Lofa Tatupu) and some underachievers (Aaron Curry, Kelly Jennings). In 2011 they added some good pieces and the defense made significant difference. The unit then really made a jump this year, finishing 4th in yards and #1 in scoring.
The amazing part of the rebuilt defense is that they took a lot of oddball parts and made them work. Chris Clemons was a speedy DE/LB tweener for the Eagles and Skins but thrived for Seattle. Kam Chancellor was a 230-pound Safety that some thought should move to LB, but he’s been an outstanding player. Red Bryant did little at DT, but was moved to LDE and became an impact run defender at 6-5, 325. CB Brandon Browner came over from the CFL and turned into a starter.
The key piece was CB Richard Sherman. He had mostly played WR at Stanford, but moved to CB for his final 2 years. He was terrific in the Senior Bowl practices, but fell to the 5th round. Seattle scooped him up and Sherman has played at an elite level ever since. With Darrelle Revis hurt, Sherman might just be the best cover corner in the NFL.
So Pete and Gus built a top shelf defense without investing a ton of resources. That is nothing short of amazing.
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I like Bradley’s background. He coached at the small school level for 15 years. That’s not a glamorous lifestyle. You do that because you love football, you love coaching, and you love the players. Bradley wasn’t networking like mad to climb the coaching ladder. He enjoyed his time at NDSU. The opportunity came and Gus took off for the NFL.
Coaching small school football can be a good thing. You have to really teach technique at that level. Guys don’t win on sheer talent. NDSU was small, but a successful program. Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski has a theory about playing smaller schools. He doesn’t want a bunch of cupcakes. He wants to face teams that are good in their conference. K’s theory is that those teams will be well-coached and play tough. They might lack talent, but the preparation and style of play and teamwork will present challenges. Think of the way the Princeton offense used to give some athletic, but undisciplined teams fits.
While Bradley wasn’t coaching Brian Urlacher or Patrick Willis or DeMeco Ryans, he was dealing with kids who listened, played the game the right way, and won. Bradley was able to hone his teaching techniques because he had good pupils. He was in a winning environment. While NDSU wasn’t important to me and you, it meant the world to those kids. They cared. They listened. They worked hard. That helped make Bradley a better coach.
Carroll seems to stress Bradley’s ability to teach when discussing his star coach.
“He’s the best teacher I’ve ever been around,” Carroll said. “He’s so thorough, so thoughtful, and he’ll go to such lengths to find ways to make sense of the information so the guys can understand it in practical ways.
“It doesn’t matter how good we teach. It’s how well they learn. I think that connection is really clear with Gus. He’s great at it.”
That’s the small school background.
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Can Bradley be a good head coach? Carroll and Kiffin sure think so. Monte loves to gush about Gus.
“He really is exceptional,” Kiffin, now USC’s defensive coordinator, said in a phone interview. “You could tell. He’s not just a really, really smart coach; he’s got a great personality. He connects with the players really well.
“He reminds me of (Steelers coach) Mike Tomlin. We hired Mike at 29-years-old out of the University of Cincinnati. It didn’t take long to know that Mike was special, and I knew from Day 1 that Gus was special. He’ll be a head coach in the NFL. He’s got no panic. Some people do, it doesn’t mean they’re not really good coaches, but Gus, he’s special. When he interviews, he’ll knock your socks off. I’m not trying to pump him up, but I know what he is. He’s put it on tape up there.”
Remember the number one trait that Jeff Lurie was looking for? Leadership.
Bradley has shown that at NDSU, Tampa, and Seattle. He’s never been the head honcho, but he’s been a leader of whatever group he’s been part of. His strong personality suggests that he’ll be able to take the step from LBs to the defense to the whole team. Not all coaches handle new situations well. Sean McDermott was one guy as an assistant and then another as the DC. Bradley has been able to stay the same.
My concern with him is the tightrope he walks. Bradley is a very positive guy. There are articles on him titled “Does Gus Bradley ever have a bad day?”, “Seahawks’ defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has winning smile, style” and “Bradley Hopes Passion Turns Around Hawks Defense”. You can get away with this as a positional assistant. It is possible to do as DC. It becomes really, really difficult to do as the head coach. Bradley will tell you that he knows when to be tough and when to be nice, but as I said…he’s walking a tightrope.
Here’s the problem. You can go from too tough to nicer with no issues. You can’t start off nice and then get tougher. Players revolt on guys who try that. My hope in this area is that working under Mora and Carroll showed Bradley the right balance. Both Mora and Carroll are upbeat, positive coaches. They can be screamers at times, but it isn’t their basic style. Bradley has watched Carroll work with a young roster for the last 2 years and turn them into a good team. Hopefully Bradley picked up on how to make that work.
The flip side is that Bradley worked under Jon Gruden for 3 years in Tampa. I think we all know that Gruden can be a screamer and very demanding coach. That style didn’t always deliver the best results.
I want to stress that I’m not saying Bradley is some peace-loving hippie that will hand out flowers for players who get a sack or INT. He’s just a believer in staying positive as much as possible. Buddy Ryan was a jerk. Ray Rhodes would tell a player to play as if a loaded gun was at the guy’s head. I don’t know what you call that. Reid was more of the wise old teacher (even in his younger days). Bradley is the guy who will be very active, very emotional, but mostly positive.
He stresses accountability and this is something the Eagles have lacked in recent years. Reid believed in letting players play through their issues. He trusted his players and felt the best way was to treat them that way. I get the feeling that Bradley will hold guys more accountable. Aaron Curry was the #3 overall pick. He was traded so that mid-round pick KJ Wright could have his spot. Curry wasn’t getting the job done so he got the boot.
Don’t take this to mean players will be cut/traded at the drop of a dime. The coaches gave Curry multiple chances to turn things around. He played all of 2010 under Gus and Pete. 5 games into 2011 he was traded. That’s a reasonable leash for such a high pick.
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I don’t want to get into defensive scheme too much. If Bradley is hired, we’ll need to be able to discuss that at some length. In Tampa, Gus coached the Tampa 2 with Kiffin.
In Seattle, the defense is a 4-3 under front that Carroll learned from Kiffin back at Arkansas in the late 1970s. Carroll has tweaked it to adjust for the modern passing game.
I don’t know how much of Seattle’s defense is Carroll vs how much is Bradley. The basic ideas were Pete’s, but Bradley has been the teacher and guy running it for 3 years. I assume he’s the guy who builds the gameplans and does the detail work.
If there is one concern here, it is that Seattle’s strength is its secondary. That is Pete’s area of expertise. He is a DB guru. Seattle has the best corner in the league and the best Safety tandem. Can Bradley come anywhere close to replicating that in another city? This is where we need to hope that Gus is not only a great teacher, but also a great learner.
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Let’s talk staff members for a second. Gus coached with these guys in the NFL:
Through his connections to Bob Babich he has ties to:
Pep Hamilton – OC – Stanford
Rod Marinelli – DC – Bears
Jon Hoke – DBs – Bears
Dave Toub – STs – Bears
Jeremy Bates – QBs … worked for Pete Carroll, Lovie Smith
Pete Carroll obviously has all kinds of coaching connections.
I haven’t begun to really think about a fantasy scenario. Having Marinelli run the defense would be fine with me. Mike Mularkey is an interesting name for the offense. He believes in the running game. He developed Matt Ryan in Atlanta. Like Ryan, Nick Foles is a tall pocket passer. They’re not close talent-wise, but are similar in other ways.
If Gus wants to go with a new style of offense (running QB stuff), he could hire any number of guys.
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I do think it would be good to have a coach like Gus in here to replace Andy Reid. I think the whole fiery/emotion thing is overrated, but I do like my coaches to have different personalities. This will enforce to the players that there really has been a change in an obvious, tangible way. The two guys look, act, and sound nothing alike. Greg Roman felt like Andy 2.0. I didn’t want that. No more Big Red. They now could have crazy bald guy.
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In his final year at NDSU, Bradley’s defense had 2 shutouts. This year Seattle shutout the Cardinals, 58-0. My first goal is to win a Super Bowl, obviously. Beyond that, give me a friggin’ shutout. We’ve been without one since 1996. Ray Farmer was a rookie that year. He’s now interviewing for GM jobs. Ugh.
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Some good resources:
http://www.gobison.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=2400&ATCLID=75917 (Gus looked dorky in this photo)
http://kiroradio.com/listen/9943092/ (radio interview)
and how could anything be complete without The Video (where i got my title from)