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In his first season as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ head coach, Zumbrota native Gus Bradley went 4-4 over the final four games to finish the season 4-12. (Photo courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars)

We asked, they answered: Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley

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On Jan. 15, Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley talked with Republican Eagle reporter Kyle Stevens. Bradley, a Zumbrota native, led the Jaguars to a 4-12 season, his first as an NFL head coach. While all the regular offseason tasks await Bradley – personnel decisions and the draft among other things – Bradley and his staff will also be coaching the South team Saturday Jan. 25 in the Reese’s Senior Bowl. An unfair high temperature of 64 degrees in Jacksonville started off the 30-minute conversation.

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KS: Let’s get it out of the way, how much nicer is it where you are than here (high of 25 degrees in Red Wing)?

GS: Temperature-wise? Well, it depends what you like. I never did mind ice fishing, whether it was 20 degrees out, or 10 degrees and sitting in a house or standing outside. There’s something to be said about that too. I guess it’s whatever your preference (is). But if you like warm weather, then you’d like Jacksonville.

So, you don’t miss the cold, snowy, Minnesota winter? You can deal with the warm beaches?

It gets cool here. I’ve lived in Jacksonville and Seattle, and you did have a change of seasons. But it just wasn’t as drastic. The change in season might means that you have a couple days where it gets down to freezing and you see the leaves change a little bit. But nothing as drastic as you see up there in Minnesota. We’ve been fortunate that everywhere we’ve lived as a family has been good. I can’t complain.

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?

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. But as far as that’s concerned, I just felt that it was an opportunity to lead maybe 25 players and eight coaches in Seattle, and now it’s the opportunity to lead 60, or at times 90 players, and 20 coaches. So the numbers just increase but the message and how you go about it is really similar.

Was there anything you thought would be more difficult that, in reality, turned out to be easier in that change?

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 out organization, was really all about improving and getting better. And we really wanted to instill that in our players because that’s something that they can control, to go out and get better every day. And we just felt like if we stuck to that plan, where the team got better every day, and we kept improving every day, that we just trusted the results would come. 

So, here we are, at one time 0-8, we didn’t get consumed in the losses, but we did use them as growth. We learned a great deal from it. I think to see it all come together, and then at one point we won four out of five games. 

Now the challenge is to not revel in accomplishments, either, and not get too caught up in that, and just use that the same as we did some of the losses. Our whole focus is just trying to be the best we can be. And I felt like if we could continue that focus, the results would come. So we went through the whole gamut during the whole season, and it really, really tests your conviction. 

But it was an unbelievable experience and I loved every minute of it. I know it seems odd with our record the way it was, but we celebrated a lot of victories: change in the culture, the work ethic, the attitude, the approach, all of those things, we had a chance to establish this year.

You mention going 0-8 and then won four of five after your bye. And even the three straight losses to end the season, two were by seven points or less. You’re probably not a big website reader, but one of the things I found researching was on ProFootballTalk.com, when you beat the Texans a second time, that’s when coach (Gary) Kubiak got fired. That’s when Houston’s owner came out and said the following: “Well, 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.

“They played harder, they played smarter, and that’s not acceptable to us to have some team beat us on that basis. If they’re better than we are, if they’ve got better ability than we do, then fine, but we expect to go out and play hard and play smart. We didn’t play smart.” (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/12/06/mcnair-jaguars-played-harder-and-smarter/)

FOX’s Jay Glazer also reported that the Browns had similar feelings after you beat them. (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/12/31/kubiak-chudzinski-were-hurt-by-comparisons-to-gus-bradley/)

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?

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. 

And when you do that, you lose some humility. And when you lose humility, it can get you to where you stop identifying weaknesses, and when you stop identifying weaknesses, then how can you get better?

So I think it’s something that we just try to have the discipline to stay away from all of that. And we just know there’s trouble there. And, like I said, if we win, great, that’s awesome, ideally that’s what we’re after. If we lose, it’s unfortunate, but we’re not going to miss what we can take from it.

We’re just going to stay on this path to be the best we can be. That’s really hard in the NFL, to be the best you can be. Are you crazy? That’s not most teams. Most teams are “Let’s win.” And to find a way to win.

I understand, and that’s what’s important to us, too. But I believe if we strive to be the best we can be, then the wins will come. It’s just a little bit different approach. But it’s what we had to instill in our players and our team, and that’s why we don’t get caught up one way or the other too much. We really want to stay pure with that mindset.

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? Is it easier to make decisions on players or schemes now that you’ve been around the team, as opposed to whatever kind of homework you had to do last winter?

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.

But if you can at least keep core guys around, keep core guys that are so important, that understand the scheme, understand the philosophy, and can pass it on, those guys are invaluable. That part will make it easier that you have those things in place.

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)

(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.

Growing up in Zumbrota, were you a Vikings fan?

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. And when they would lose I’d cry and tears and your heart just went out to them. That’s hard, you’re a passionate Viking fan.

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.

When you get them in the future, the Vikings will have a different coach. Any thoughts on Mike Zimmer?

He’s really a good coach. I don’t know him. I’ve met him a couple of times. The league is so small, there’s 32 teams and the number of coaches, if you don’t know them personally, you know people that know them. And coach Zimmer is very, very well thought of in the NFL. Very well thought of. And I do know that in Seattle, we had a couple players that came from Cincinnati, and thought the world of him.

If it is coach Zimmer, and he’s in place there, you’re getting a good man that’s tough, who’s disciplined and, obviously, he’s coached enough years, he knows what it takes. I think it’s a great hire if they end up getting him.

If you could pick one team or player, historically, to coach, who would that be? Maybe a team with an all-time defense like the ’85 Bears, or the Purple People Eaters?

Wow. It’s hard to say because every place I’ve been, I’ve been so fortunate through college to the NFL. I don’t know if I could ever – I look back at my times in Tampa (Bay) and to coach with Monte Kiffin and the coaches there, and to be able to coach a guy like Derrick Brooks was phenomenal experience.

And to go to Seattle and help build that and create a defense and a team that has now established itself as one of the best in the league. That was an awesome experience.

And, really, this year, it was fabulous. I loved every bit of it this year.

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. It was great in Seattle.

And how about Jacksonville? With the ownership and the GM that we have, I wouldn’t change it for anything right now.

Take your chance to coach the Purple People Eaters and be under Bud Grant for a year?

(More laughter.) Back then, that was the dream. Initially it was to play for them, but that quickly went out the door.

How about the other way around; if you had the choice to be coached by any one person, who would that be?

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.

You mention Pete Carroll. He gets a lot of attention for coaching differently than a lot of coaches do around the league. You were there and under him and saw it firsthand. Is it that simple? Obviously he’s got the mind to do, but was that change something you tried to pick up on a little bit?

People have asked me that. Pete and I, I think, are very similar. But in many areas, we’re different. As far as upbeat and positive, there’s a lot of similarities and I think that’s why we gravitated towards each other and really enjoyed our time.

He is an amazing person, an amazing coach. He can coach offense, defense, special teams, his energy level is always at an all-time high, he’s just a genuine person and just has really, really strong conviction. I think that’s what you pick up from being with him.

I think he’s at a point in his life where it doesn’t matter what others think. It’s more important that he has a strong conviction in his beliefs. And he passes that on to the players and the players see it as genuine. He’s a really good coach.

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.

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.

The people there have been great. It’s hard for me to get back there, but I know there’s a lot of people pulling for us and for me, and that’s greatly appreciated. We have a lot of people come and visit. People from Zumbrota came to the Houston Texans game, to Jacksonville, to out in Seattle, to Minnesota, and that loyalty is amazing. I don’t know how I could ever tell them how much I appreciate that, and our family appreciates it.

If there’s anything I’d like to get across to them, it’s thank you for the support. And we’re just trying to bring a sense of the humility that I learned from Zumbrota to Jacksonville. And hopefully we can do it that same way.

Lastly, put the humbleness aside and gloat a little bit about North Dakota State winning its third-straight FCS championship. (Bradley played at NDSU, and was previously the Bisons’ defensive coordinator)

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.

The athletic director and I are good friends, and the coaching staff. I could not be more pleased for that university. And what they’ve brought the community, the state, and, really, the Midwest, is something that’s really unique and cool to see.

One last thing: My request. If he’s still there when you pick in the draft, let him go, because I want Johnny Manziel in purple.

(Laughter again.) That’s great. (More laughter.) The Vikings, I’m sure, will do well. They’re a class organization.

It’s funny because I don’t think we play them for a couple years now. We played them last year when I wasn’t here. When I was in the NFC with Seattle, then it was every other year, and had a chance to play them every year. Now being in the AFC it’s a little bit different.

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Kyle Stevens
Kyle Stevens is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, Kyle worked at the Owatonna People’s Press, as well as KWLM and KLFN in Willmar. You can contact Kyle by phone at (651) 301-7879, via e-mail at kstevens@republican-eagle.com, and follow him on Twitter @RE_KStevens.
(651) 301-7879
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