Zumbrota native, Gus Bradley, reflects on his first year as head coach in the NFL
RED WING, Minn. -- Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley sat down for an interview earlier this month. Bradley, a Zumbrota native, led the Jaguars to a 4-12 season, his first as an NFL head coach.
Following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Q: You took the head coaching job almost exactly a year ago. What was the biggest change for you going from being a coordinator, an assistant coach, to being a head coach?
A: You have a certain philosophy that you instill in the players as a defensive unit. But it still follows within the head coach’s philosophy. And now, when I came to Jacksonville, it was to have that philosophy that is so important throughout the whole team. … So the numbers just increase but the message and how you go about it is really similar.
Q: Was there anything you thought would be more difficult that, in reality, turned out to be easier in that change?
A: We went through some struggles, obviously, if you count record. I think we started off 0-8 at one time. But we didn’t get caught up too much into that. Winning is obviously important in the NFL. But I just didn’t want it to be our central focus. I felt like my philosophy, and our philosophy as a staff and our organization, was really all about improving and getting better. And we really wanted to instill that in our players.
Q: One of the things I found (when) researching was on ProFootballTalk.com. After you beat the Texans a second time … Houston’s owner said that: “... I think the last straw was losing. We’ve got a lot better talent than Jacksonville. To have them beat us twice, that’s to their credit.”
Does any of that validate ownership’s belief in you, hiring you, or validate your belief that what you’re doing is the right thing?
A: I did not know that. I try not to get too caught up into that. I think we try to ignore the noise as much as possible. I know maybe there are things out there like that, but I really want our team’s focus on really improving. I think you can get caught up in all that, and that’s reveling in accomplishments to me.
Q: You’re coaching in the Senior Bowl, and last year that was just right on your lap coming in. Considering you’ve now seen the players every day for a year, what changes in your offseason?
A: You try to find out your team as fast as possible by watching tape, and you do get an extra minicamp with them, and we were still trying to find out all the skill sets of our players during the season. That part of it, they understand the offense, they understand the defense, that part of it is good.
But in the NFL, your roster is always changing. We’ll have a core, but we’re going to get another 10, 11 guys through the draft, free agents, we’ll pick up some guys off the waiver wire. So the team we have in place right now is going to change. And that’s why every year is a challenge in itself.
Q: We’ll pull away from the Jags for a second. Are you pulling for the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl? (Bradley served as Seattle’s defensive coordinator before becoming the Jaguars’ head coach)
A: (Laughter.) You know what? It’s hard because I know all those guys, I know the coaches, I should say I know most of them. And they’re great guys, great people, great players. And the coaching staff I hold in a high regard. I’ve always felt that I’m tied to them from my years there. I am pulling for them to do really well, to be their best.
Q: Growing up in Zumbrota, were you a Vikings fan?
A: Still am. I still am anytime we’re not playing them.
I can remember growing up as a Vikings fan, and right after a game going down to the high school we had a tackle football game all the school kids played and I was Chuck Foreman, the spin and dance. … You know how it is when you grow up in Minnesota, you love the Vikes. That part is always there, it’s just different now that we’re playing them.
Q: If you could pick one team or player, historically, to coach, who would that be?
A: Wow. It’s hard to say. ... I don’t know if I ever think about that. It’s a great question. But when you’ve enjoyed every place that you’ve been and the people that you’ve been around, I would go back and say one of those places because I enjoyed it so much. If you say individually, I’d say Derrick Brooks was great and to be a part of that.
Q: How about the other way around; if you had the choice to be coached by any one person, who would that be?
A: Great question there. How do I answer that? Peter Carroll was great, and he’s been so good to me and I can see why players enjoy playing for him. Monte Kiffin, players love playing for him. John Gruden, Jim Mora, I’ve been so fortunate to be around some really, really good coaches. To play for any one of those guys that I’ve been associated with would be great.
Q: What do have to say to the folks from the area you grew up in? They get to see the local boy reach the pinnacle of his profession, and be a head coach of an NFL team. There are only 32 of those jobs. It doesn’t get much tougher to get that kind of work.
A: One of the things that I learned the most growing up in Zumbrota was the closeness of the communities. Even the communities around, everyone knew everybody. I felt a strong sense of humility, and it was important to have humility growing up in that area.
I’m just trying to do the best I can here in Jacksonville. But, really, with the way we organize things and how we go about our day, I hope to bring that same sense of humility that I learned growing up in Zumbrota and the area to Jacksonville.
Q: Lastly, put the humbleness aside and gloat a little bit about North Dakota State winning its third straight FCS championship. (Bradley played for the Bison, and was previously NDSU’s defensive coordinator.)
A: They’ve got something special going on up there. They have a strong commitment from the community, from the state, the players and the coaching staff, it’s really a unique place. I’m really excited for them and what they’ve accomplished. They really do things the right way.