clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Gus Bradley is changing everything about the Jaguars. Next up: the record

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley has a 7-25 record in his two seasons at the helm, but the positive energy he has built around the franchise has fans, players and the organization convinced that big things are on the way.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Gus Bradley was lost in a sea of shoulder pads. The top of his Seahawks hat pacing in every direction, pointing in the players' faces, was the only thing visible. But even if he couldn't be seen, the rasp of his voice was loud and clear.

"Do your job!"

"We got a three-and-out by people doing their job, then we get to this series and everybody goes to do their own fucking thing! Well, you won't be great until you do your job!"

When the Jaguars hired Bradley to be their head coach in 2013, fans clung to that 77-second clip on YouTube that showed an angry coach yelling at a Seahawks defense struggling against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. After watching an emotionless Mike Mularkey lead the team through a season with 14 losses and just two wins, the energy and enthusiasm certainly represented a change.

The team was in disarray and needed to be rebuilt from the ground up and required a young motivator to lead the influx of young talent on the way to Jacksonville. Bradley has provided the Jaguars with the motivating personality fans were hoping for, but not in the expletive-laden and explosive way they expected.

"He is 100 percent positive energy," said kicker Josh Scobee, who's been with the team for 12 years. "Not just energy; it's positive energy. All day, every day. Honestly, it's a refreshing thing to be around in terms of head coaches in the NFL and coaches, in general."

However refreshing Bradley has been, it doesn't hide the fact that the Jaguars have just seven wins and 25 losses in his two years as head coach. No active coach has a lower winning percentage than Bradley at .219. Only six head coaches in NFL history have coached in more than 32 games and finished their career with a lower mark. So how is it that Bradley's seat isn't nearly as warm as would typically be the case for a coach as unsuccessful as he has been through his first two years?

"To tell you the truth, he was kind of dealt a pretty bad hand coming in here because of the turnover that we've had with such a young roster and a few other things like that," Scobee said. "I think he accepted it as a challenge and an opportunity for him to really ingrain his culture here."


A plate of hash browns and sausage just wasn't quite enough for St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, who slowly picked his way through choices of eggs and bagels. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick wasn't in a hurry either and left a crowded group of reporters sitting patiently waiting for the six-time Super Bowl-winning coach to pick out an assortment of fruit.

Both looked like they woke up no more than 10 minutes before leaving to talk to reporters at the coaches breakfast at the NFL annual meetings, held in March of this year at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix. Neither coach looked like they wanted to be there.

Bradley elected to go with coffee, and nothing else, for his morning chat with a coming and going of reporters from all over the nation. He has been at the annual meetings each year since he was hired, but you wouldn't have known it by looking at him.

Despite countless interviews in the more than two years since his hire, Bradley looked like he won a fan contest to live out his dream of being an NFL head coach. His eyes didn't stop swimming around the table with childlike enthusiasm, as if he were trying to convince every reporter that he loves his job as much as he says he does. Even when he's not laughing or smiling, years of laugh lines are carved into the corners of his eyes.

His answers to questions, which consistently featured him cracking a joke that he laughs at louder than anybody else, contained no attempt to temper his optimism about the improvement he sees in a team that has struggled to find wins under his leadership.

"I'm really excited about it," Bradley said. "We've got some youth that we're really excited about, seeing the next step that they take. I think we've got some veteran guys, guys like [Paul Posluszny], coming back that provide leadership and I think with this free agent class, that we've got some highly spirited, highly competitive guys that I think will mesh well after getting a chance to be in our locker room."

Excitement is something he seemingly can't mute and buzzwords like "culture" and "energy" are things he repeats ad nauseam.

Photo via Getty Images

The Jaguars relied heavily on the play of rookie quarterback Blake Bortles in 2014. It didn't go very well for the team, which won just three games while Bortles finished dead last in the NFL's passer rating formula. He threw 17 interceptions compared to just 11 touchdowns. The six other quarterbacks who threw 15 or more interceptions in 2014 averaged just over 31 touchdown passes.

Three of Bortles' interceptions came in an October game against the Cleveland Browns. In the third quarter, after his third pick of the day, Bradley called over the then-22-year-old passer for a chat on the sideline that was captured by cameras.

"I don't mind that stuff, just think about your look, when I see you on the sideline," Bradley told Bortles with encouraging calm. "You've got great confidence so just go out there and attack. Go do the things that you do. Those things can happen, but your look is what I'm looking for. Just make sure because they feel that."

One drive later, Bortles threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to give the Jaguars a lead that the team held for the remainder of the game en route to its first victory of the year.

As Bortles jogged off the field, Bradley was the first to congratulate the rookie. He grabbed him by the back of his jersey and talked into the side of the quarterback's helmet.

"That's what I mean! Something good is always about to happen!"

For as animated as Bradley was on the sideline during the victory, he was somehow even more fired up in the locker room after the game and could hardly put together coherent sentences.

"Mental toughness, battle of wills, all the things we've been through, you demonstrate your spirit," Bradley said to a circle of smiling players. "I've never been so excited for people, man! Awesome job!"

Players agree that Bradley carries the same amount of fervor for Jaguars football after losses, practices, meetings and press conferences.

"Oh man, he's totally different than every coach I've had," said Jaguars third-year linebacker LaRoy Reynolds. "If there's one thing I'd say: He's consistent. He tries to allow everyone to see that. I feel like leaders have to be transparent and he's so transparent about how he feels and being true to himself and being true to the team."


John Caputo, president of Bold City Brigade, first met Bradley at a closed training camp practice exclusive to the "new age booster club" and its 4,000-plus members.

"My first time meeting him, I remember having the same feeling that a lot of the players do," Caputo said. "It's like ‘Okay, is this guy for real? When the bullets start flying, will you be the same person?' He inspires you, even as a fan, when you're talking to him. He's infectious. I think that resonates not just with the players as we've seen, but it certainly resonates with the fans."

That resonance has helped most fans of the Jaguars buy into a vision that hasn't yet resulted in wins.

"Maybe the brilliance in what they've really been doing is how they have been upfront about how they were going to build this, how they were going to do it, and that it might be painful, at first," Caputo said. "So I think that's bought him good will. From the fan base, anyway."

Still, losses wear on a fan base's patience quickly. Especially for a group of fans that have endured a tremendous lack of success.

In the 15 seasons since playing in the 1999 AFC Championship Game, the Jaguars have been above average on rare occasion, and mediocre or terrible for the rest. Just three of those 15 years featured winning seasons, with the last coming in 2007.

"The fact that Shad Khan, Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley have been able to buy this much patience has been a massive testament to their vision," Caputo said. "There's really no reason why anybody would have to have patience or understanding, from this fan base's perspective."

"They had a vision, they had a plan. I think Jaguars fans were just starving for a plan and a message that they could believe in and they could put their finger on."

Photo via USA Today Sports Images

Players on the team echo the same philosophy that Bradley has sold since his first days with the team: Get better.

"He's concerned about getting the best possible ability from the individual player," Scobee said. "In turn, that individual player makes the team better. He's always preaching about getting better. That's his whole thing. ‘Get better, get better' and if you give your personal best then the team does get better and that will translate into wins."

"He has a real high football IQ and I've learned a lot from him," said Jaguars third-year cornerback Demetrius McCray. "He's a players' coach and he's just a real genuine guy, too. A real genuine guy. He loves his players. Loves his players. He puts his players first."

But it hasn't translated into wins yet. And many fans complain that a team that is built around the idea of improvement hasn't improved.


Perhaps the sole highlight during Mularkey's time as the head coach of the Jaguars came in a November game that was nationally televised on Monday Night Football. The normally stoic coach angrily threw down his clipboard of plays when he didn't agree with referees.

He was human. He had emotions. It was a revelation, but far too little, too late for Mularkey, who was fired less than two months later after just two wins in his only season as head coach.

Players appreciate the culture Bradley's brought to Jacksonville, and that has made the Jaguars a legitimate destination for big free agents like Julius Thomas and Jared Odrick. But culture alone isn't good enough to keep a job in the NFL.

"I think Dave Caldwell and [team owner] Shad Khan are a lot more lenient of a staff than he'd ever get in the NFL, so they're going to give him more time, at least I hope so," Scobee said. "I hope it doesn't take a lot of time for us to start winning more games because I'd like to start seeing us win now, and so would everybody else. But Gus has patience and so does Dave and so does Mr. Khan."

Patience afforded Bradley time to implement his culture, and now that culture needs to deliver wins.

SB Nation video archives: Forget the haters! Jacksonville is tops (2013)