Gus Bradley made a decision this offseason that could define his career.
Offensive and defensive coordinators leave successful teams every year to take over for struggling teams as the head coach. Many hope to revive the derailed franchise and build their legacy as a savior who brought the team to NFL glory; and every once in a while it works out, Pete Carroll providing an example.
Then there are many times when it doesn’t.
Bradley may have temporarily derailed his own coaching career by taking over as the head coach for the dismal Jacksonville Jaguars. Just last season, he was in the northwest coaching one of the best defenses in the NFL, our own Seattle Seahawks.
Bradley was the only remaining major coach from the Jim Mora Jr. era that Carroll kept on the staff when he took over for the Seahawks in 2010.
This turned out to be a great move as Bradley became one of the architects of the defense the Seahawks put on the field in 2013, arguably the best in the NFL. Instead of remaining in Seattle this season, though, he decided to jump at the opportunity to be a head coach and signed with the Jaguars. This caused Jacksonville fans everywhere to ask, “Who the heck is this guy?”
Since taking over in Jacksonville, the Jaguars are 0-4 and have been outscored 129-31 through the first four contests. Through two games, starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert has thrown seven interceptions and just one touchdown all season. The Jags sport a bottom of the pack defense, and an offense that ranks dead last in the NFL. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, whose talent is undeniable given past success, is gaining only 2.8 yards per carry and has scored one touchdown this season.
Jacksonville is bad, really bad, and if in the past five years a team has existed that has the most potential of being the first 0-16 team in the NFL since the 2008 Detroit Lions, it’s the 2013 Jaguars.
Now it’s Bradley’s job to fix all of this, which would be an extremely tall order for the best head coach in the NFL, let alone a first year head coach. In these situations what often happens is there is a middle man head coach who comes in for one or two terrible years and the team gets some early round draft picks; then the middle man coach gets fired, the team brings in a new guy and improves.
Take Jim Mora Jr. in Seattle for example. It appears that Bradley could end up as this middle man in Jacksonville, losing his job after this season or halfway through the next and setting the Jaguars up for success several years down the road.
It doesn’t mean that these middle-men coaches performed badly, they just coached in an unfixable situation. In today’s professional sports world of instant gratification, teams don’t give guys five years to rebuild a team anymore like they did in the past – it’s now or never. This is why Bradley may have temporarily derailed his coaching career until he can land back on his feet as a coordinator somewhere, build another championship-caliber defense, and try for another head coaching job; that process could take a decade or longer to achieve.
For Bradley, another year in Seattle may have been the better move. The Seahawks could have potentially held the number one defense in the NFL by the end of the year, maybe clinching the top seed in the NFC.
Just for fun, let’s say Seattle wins the Super Bowl. Next February, Bradley would have been sitting at his desk with a Super Bowl ring on his finger, thumbing through NFL job offers for head coaching openings. Instead, next February Bradley will either reviewing tape on who he will draft first-overall in next year’s NFL draft, or worse, waiting for a call from his agent to see who he will be interviewing for next as a future defensive coordinator.