JACKSONVILLE – His eyes widened, then he smiled.
Neither look is foreign to Gus Bradley. Anyone who has been around the Jaguars the past year can tell you he is all about optimism and enthusiasm.
So, when Bradley was reminded that this week – Friday, in fact – marked the one-year anniversary of his being named the Jaguars' Head Coach, he at first expressed surprise, and then said again what he said throughout much of a memorable first season.
"It's been a whirlwind, man, but it's been cool," Bradley said.
A whirlwind …
Yes, the first season under Bradley was that. In the past year, he and General Manager David Caldwell have overhauled much of the football side of the Jaguars. That's a process that began for Bradley with the hiring last January of a largely new staff, including new offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators, each of whom implemented significantly new approaches.
Significant roster change followed. The Jaguars not only made 231 roster transactions since last January, seven players started on defense who weren't with the team the previous December. And while the offense underwent less change on the surface, the 2013 season featured a change at quarterback, the suspension of receiver Justin Blackmon, the trade of starting left tackle Eugene Monroe and an early-season, season-ending injury to No. 2 overall selection/rookie Luke Joeckel.
Those things made up a lot of the "whirlwind part."
To Bradley, the "cool" part outweighed everything else, because through the whirlwind – and through an 0-8 start to the season – he and the coaching staff were able to lay a foundation, and establish a culture.
That was Bradley's focus from the date of his hiring, and he emphasized that focus above all else during his first season. Doing so wasn't always easy, he said, but he considered it the most important task over the last 365 days.
"I've really enjoyed it," Bradley said. "It's been really good. You get tested on so many things – your conviction, your philosophy, your approach … how you're going to be with the players, how you're going to be with the staff. I've loved every second of it. It's been great."
It was Bradley's approach on a daily basis that impressed players, and that won over players such as Marcedes Lewis and Maurice Jones-Drew, eight-year veterans and locker-room leaders. Consistency is critical when coaching professional athletes, and players throughout the second half of the season talked often of Bradley's consistency of message.
"I'm sure I changed," Bradley said. "I don't want to be naïve and think I never did change, but as far as my core beliefs, or at least to be consistent enough where the players knew what they were getting every day – that part of it I feel pretty good about. I think we've really grown as a staff and as a team. We're still obviously not where we want to go, but I feel like we've taken the first steps.
"Our whole thing when we set this up was to get a product and a team where you could see sustainable success every year, year in and year out. To do that, you have to be careful of trying to be quick trigger and fixing it really quick. There are a lot of things that go into it and you want to make sure everything's right. It's a relationship and something that takes on meaning for many, many years.
"That's what I feel good about that it's headed in the right direction in that way."
Bradley said while he always believed consistency critical in coaching, he learned how critical in his first season as an assistant in Tampa Bay in 2006.
"When I was a linebacker coach and I was going to switch up a routine with how we did things in individual drills, some of the linebackers would be like, 'Whoa, let's get back to what we always do on Thursday,''' he said. "Consistency creates credibility. They know what they're getting and they know, 'We're going to work on this.' It's such a rhythmic thing; it's entrenched. It's a routine for them. That's really important to an NFL player or a professional athlete. It even goes more as a head coach."
Players throughout the second half of the season praised Bradley's approach during the team's Week 9 bye week. The Jaguars were 0-8, and had lost to the San Francisco 49ers 42-10 at Wembley Stadium in London in Week 8.
On the flight to Jacksonville from London, Bradley considered whether to practice that week. On the one hand, 0-8 wasn't what he or the team wanted. At the same time, he had preached getting better and competing on a daily basis as being more important than victories and losses. Despite the record, he felt the players had competed, and felt they had improved.
Bradley opted to give players the week off.
"If you change your message, you don't stand for anything," Bradley said. "If you change your message this week, then the next week, then they don't know what you stand for."
Veteran players, particularly Jones-Drew, said that decision resonated. The Jaguars won four of their first five games after the bye – a stretch that included the team's first three-game winning streak since 2010.
Bradley said while 0-8 was challenging, that situation was made easier by Jaguars owner Shad Khan and Caldwell. Their support, he said, helped him stay strong with the approach with which he led the Jaguars in 2013 – and with which he will lead them into the future.
"Believe me, when you're 0-8, that's really a challenge," he said with a laugh. "But I give a lot of credit to Shad and Dave Caldwell. They could have come in at 0-8 and said, 'Gus, this isn't working. We have to change.' I got the opposite. They said, 'Stick to it. It's going well. We believe in it.'
"This was before I had to say anything. That's what intrigued me about the Jacksonville job in the first place. When I met with Dave and I met with Shad, I could feel their conviction and how much we were tied together. That's when I said, 'This is a good for me.' Every coach that goes into an organization knows what's important to them, and that's what was important to me. That's what I felt like Jacksonville offered.
"To have that sort of support, that strengthens my conviction to test it even more and allows me to stay strong … that's awesome."