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No surprises in a coaching search

Posted Jan 17, 2013

EDITORIAL: Jacksonville Jaguars hiring of new Coach Gus Bradley fits familiar pattern for GM David Caldwell, sets tone for organization

JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars pulled a surprise Thursday. And really, at the same, they didn’t.

The Jaguars on Thursday morning hired Gus Bradley as their fourth permanent head coach, news that broke early, spread throughout the morning and was confirmed near 11 a.m. Eastern.

The announcement marked the second major move for new General Manager David Caldwell, the first being the dismissal of Head Coach Mike Mularkey a week before, and from what you hear about Bradley, the move says a lot about the tone Caldwell wants for the organization.

We know Bradley is relatively young, at 46.

We know he is relatively inexperienced in the NFL with seven years in the league and very experienced in coaching, with 23 years in the business.

Those are the surface things, the statistical things.

What about the real things? The things that really got Bradley the job?

What about the things that turned a 12-hour interview Wednesday into a decision soon thereafter to hire Bradley as the franchise’s fourth head coach?

Well, the word on that is it won’t take long to see those things.

What you hear about Bradley is he’s a high energy guy, a guy for whom players will want to play. What you hear is that when he walks into a press conference Friday morning, anyone wondering why this hire was made will wonder no more. That was the knock at the end of Mularkey’s first season, that there wasn’t enough energy, and although coaching isn’t always emotion and first impressions, Bradley reportedly is a move in a different direction.

And a pretty significant different direction, too.

That, indeed, is what the last 10 days have been about, a week and a half away from the old, toward the new. It was evident in Caldwell’s first press conference last Thursday the Jaguars were moving on from Gene Smith’s four years as general manager and Mularkey’s one year as head coach, and now the moving on has a clearer direction.

It’s not insignificant this was very much Caldwell’s hire, and it’s not insignificant, either, they have joined the organization 10 days apart. Caldwell is the vision for the future Owner Shad Khan wants, and Bradley is now the extension of that. Their tenures begin at the same time. They have a chance to now be on the same page on the same clock, a cliché too often overused in sports, but one that does now describe the Jaguars’ general manager and the coach.

They will do more than work together. They will grow into the jobs together.

It’s significant, too, that there’s no history with Bradley and Caldwell, the latter of whom was certainly more familiar with two other oft-mentioned candidates, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Atlanta Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.

Neither interviewed, because their teams are playing in the NFC Championship game Sunday, but Caldwell knew both – Roman being his college roommate and Armstrong being a colleague in Atlanta.

Caldwell, too, reportedly also interviewed Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden for the position.

Caldwell likely would have been comfortable with Roman or Armstrong, or perhaps the others. But that’s what the NFL head coaching search is often about. You interview candidates, hope for one that feels right, and when it feels right, you hope like heck you know.

No doubt the resume helped. The Seahawks were one of the best defensive teams in the NFL, a talented, well-coached unit that twice held the 49ers to 13 points and who finished first in the NFL in scoring defense and fourth in total defense last season.

That stuff helps. Statistics and momentum get guys on radars in January, but they don’t nail down jobs.

No, at some point, as Khan did with Caldwell a week and a half before, Caldwell got a feeling that Bradley was the guy, and from that point, what seems to many a surprise almost certainly seemed to Caldwell logical and right.

At some point late Wednesday, it seems Caldwell knew.

What tipped the balance? What made Bradley go from a relatively unknown guy to The Guy?

We’ll know more Friday, when the Jaguars hold a press conference announcing the hire. That’s when Caldwell and Khan will discuss it for the first time.

 Here’s what Caldwell said in a release Thursday:

“It was just a matter of time before Gus Bradley became a head coach in the NFL and the Jacksonville Jaguars are extremely fortunate that Gus will be on our sidelines for many years to come.  Gus more than met every criteria we insisted on from our new head coach, and his intangibles and leadership abilities are exceptional.  Gus is who the Jaguars need now and in the future.”

Here’s what Bradley said in the release:

“I am very proud to accept the offer to be the next head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Shad Khan and Dave Caldwell expect to win, and that’s what I wanted to hear.  That’s why I am coming to Jacksonville – to win a Super Bowl.  I can’t wait to meet everyone in Jacksonville on Friday and get this going.”

The move no doubt surprised many. Fans and media knew little of Caldwell two weeks ago, and knew little of say, Roman, two weeks ago, too. Caldwell got the position, and in recent days, many observers assumed Roman would follow. So, in that sense, to some perhaps Thursday’s announcement was a surprise.

Two reasons it’s not:

First, there’s no such thing as a surprise in a coaching search. There’s speculation that runs rampant in many directions, but we’ve seen from the hiring of Andy Reid in Kansas City to Chip Kelly in Philadelphia that while we may think we know what’s next in January few outside the process really do.

Second, this move makes sense. It follows the pattern Caldwell lived in Atlanta.

Caldwell joined Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff in Atlanta in 2008. Dimitroff, fresh on the job, hired then-unknown Mike Smith, the former defensive coordinator of the Jaguars. The two developed together, and under that duo, the Falcons somewhat quietly emerged as one of the most successful, respected organizations in the NFL.

DImitroff at the time had no GM experience and Smith never had been a head coach.

Caldwell has been a GM for 10 days and Bradley’s first season on the job in Jacksonville will be his first as a head coach at any level.

The pattern fits, and whether what worked in Atlanta works in Jacksonville, remains to be seen. But what this becomes, then, is a chance for those guys to learn together, to grow together, to challenge one another.

It becomes, too, a defining moment for the Jaguars, and beginning Thursday morning, Gus and Dave, Caldwell and Bradley – whatever combination you want to use – became the face and future of the Jaguars.

Whether it was a surprise doesn’t matter. What matters is what happens next.

Come Friday morning, we’ll begin to find out.

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