JACKSONVILLE – Around 11 a.m. Friday, the Jaguars’ new vision became clear.
Absolutely, dynamically, energetically clear.
Not that it had been blurry. No, Jaguars Owner Shad Khan’s vision for the franchise had grown increasingly evident much of the past week, but Friday? About an hour before noon?
At that time, any leftover haze burned away.
Gus Bradley, the Jaguars’ new head coach, did the burning, his personality crackling, bubbling and gaining momentum with each answer; his smile and energy owning the second floor of EverBank Field. This was his introductory press conference in his new position – one of an elite 32 – and if he hadn’t planned for this moment, necessarily, he had worked for it much of his adult life.
It wasn’t his career-defining moment, to be sure. Those will come later.
But it was a big moment, his first public words as Jaguars head coach. For Bradley, it was a tone-setting moment, and for the franchise, it was the same – the first words from a man with a difficult job, the man entrusted along with his new boss and partner to guide a struggling franchise into a new era.
Bradley, as they say, had the room.
He owned it.
“What sold me on this opportunity was the passion,” Bradley, 46, said of a 14-hour interview Wednesday with General Manager David Caldwell that ended with Bradley becoming the Jaguars’ fourth permanent head coach.
“I’m a defensive coach – I have great passion, great excitement,” Bradley, a seven-year NFL veteran who spent the last four seasons as the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator, added. “I’m trying to hold it back a little bit right here. But I think with Shad and Dave, I could feel the passion coming from them, what they want to accomplish here.
“I knew our philosophies meshed together.”
Passion. If there was an operative word Friday, that was it. Or, as one fan tweeted during the press conference, “infectious.” Yeah, Bradley is that, too.
Khan since the end of the season 19 days ago has talked about the new direction of the franchise, a new era, a new vision. He talked about it eight days ago, when he introduced Caldwell as the general manager, and on Friday . . .
Well, if you were in EverBank, or if you were listening live, you couldn’t help feel it.
Passion? Energy? Infectiousness? Yeah, this Bradley guy, he has them all.
“I know I found the right man with Gus Bradley,” Caldwell said. “His passion, his energy, his attention to detail – everything that makes him up as a true football coach is what we have today to lead our team.”
Caldwell called Bradley, “A leader of men.”
“He will bring a positive, passionate energy to this city, to this team and this organization,” Caldwell said.
Khan said being involved with Caldwell during the search for a head coach for the last week, “was a very impressive experience.” He also said it was clear Caldwell was not influenced by relationships or comfort zone, and that his only objective was finding the right person.
“Dave and Gus are two examples of where I think the franchise needs to be – the quality of people, the passion and the energy,” Khan said.
There was that word again, passion, and at the same time, you saw clearly Friday this was no show – the smile, the easy way Bradley engaged in each question. It’s one thing to be good in the room – many coaches are – but there’s more.
“What’s more important is that it’s genuine,” Caldwell said. “He’s a leader of men and a brilliant football mind.”
Bradley said his “whole hope” is to be genuine.
“That’s it,” he said. “The players, they see through. They know who you are. To me, I just want to be me. I love coaching football. I love helping players get better.”
That, Bradley said, will be the approach in Jacksonville. There is a big job ahead. The road from 2-14 isn’t necessarily short, but Bradley said the focus in Seattle wasn’t on record as much as improving and letting all else follow. Bradley said that’s a philosophy for which he had searched for 23 years coaching, and that under Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll, he at last fully grasped it as an overall approach.
“That same philosophy is going to be here – everything we do, compete and do it better than it’s ever been done before,” he said. “Let’s see where it takes us. If we do that, I like our chances.”
Throughout the press conference Friday, the words remained at the fore. Bradley, although inexperienced in this forum, was at ease, and gave the impression of a man who couldn’t have meant it more when he said that vey soon into his interview Wednesday he knew this was the job for him.
He knew that strongly enough that Wednesday actually held some strange moments.
Bradley had spent Tuesday interviewing a second time with the Philadelphia Eagles for their head coaching position, and flew to Jacksonville Wednesday to meet with the Jaguars.
“I really liked Philly, the ownership, the GM, it was great,” he said. “I loved it there. I come to Jacksonville, saying, ‘I’m just going to be me and see what happens.’ I go in there and start talking to them and I say, ‘What’s going on?’
“All of a sudden I said, ‘I think this is a better fit. This just feels better.’”
Throughout the day, that feeling grew stronger, enough so that Bradley said he spent the day saying, “I hope this works out.”
Caldwell said he had next to no previous relationship with Bradley. The two said they may have met once when Caldwell was scouting the Western United States for the Colts and Bradley was an assistant at North Dakota State, but that was it. Still, the connection was immediate for Caldwell, too.
“It took me two seconds to know I wanted to be with Shad,” Caldwell said of his first interview with Khan on New Year’s Eve. “It took 2.1 to know I wanted to be with Gus.”
The sides did their diligence, had their discussions, and although they met from 10 a.m. to about 1 or 2 a.m. Thursday, the official offer came shortly after dinner. By then, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
“I knew our visions aligned,” Caldwell said, and Bradley added, ‘“Once I was in the building and understood the vision, it was a no-brainer. I’m telling you it was that easy.”
Sunday was evidence of why the two are here. They have been around success. They have helped create that success. Now, they face a different challenge, not just being part of it, but being in charge of the process.
Where they go from here is anyone’s guess and only will be known in time. It’s what we will follow in the coming weeks, months and years, but on Friday in a memorable crackling hour at EverBank, the tone was set, the haze was gone and the vision was made clear.Absolutely, dynamically, passionately clear.