Former Bison player was turned down to be NDSU head coach, but might end up being NFL head coach
If Casey “Gus” Bradley is named head coach of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles – and media reports have the current Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator as the favorite after the Eagles were turned down by several college coaches – it is perhaps the ultimate story of “right place-right time.”
Or maybe “right phone call-right time.”
Bradley came to North Dakota State from little Zumbrota, Minn., in the mid-1980s to play safety and punt for the Bison, then in the midst of Division II dominance. He was a graduate assistant with the Bison under Rocky Hager for a couple of years before going away to Fort Lewis College in Colorado for a few years to gain some coaching chops.
Hager hired Bradley full-time in 1996 as linebackers coach, and Bradley was retained and promoted to defensive coordinator by new head coach Bob Babich in 1997. Bradley was given the additional title of assistant head coach in 2000.
When Babich bolted Fargo for the NFL after a 2-8 season in 2002, Bradley was a finalist and the fan/media favorite to get the Bison head coaching job. It didn’t happen. Craig Bohl was named NDSU’s coach and he retained Bradley as defensive coordinator.
In 2006, a phone call meant to gather information about a different Bison assistant sparked Bradley’s path to possibly becoming a head coach in the NFL.
Monte Kiffin, the NFL’s legendary defensive guru and advocate for the “Tampa 2” defense, was then defensive coordinator for Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay. Kiffin called Bradley looking for a recommendation on Bison secondary coach Willie Mack Garza. The conversation between Kiffin and Bradley quickly turned to Xs and Os chalkboard talk about the Tampa 2.
Kiffin was wholly impressed. He and Bradley talked more. Kiffin hired Bradley to be the Buccaneers’ quality-control coach for the 2006 season, with the possibility (no promises) of being elevated to linebackers coach in 2007. That, indeed, happened in 2007 and Bradley held that job for two years.
“He totally exceeded my expectations,” Kiffin told the Seattle Times in 2009. “He was really under the radar.”
Kiffin was instrumental in Bradley getting the job as Seattle’s defensive coordinator that year, recommending Bradley to new Seahawks coach Jim Mora. Bradley was retained when Pete Carroll took over in Seattle in 2010. Again, the retention came on the advice of Kiffin.
In a 2009 interview with me, after he’d been named Seattle’s defensive coordinator, Bradley said: “Monte Kiffin has had a big influence on me. He’s great. He’s one of those guys that if you give him your heart and soul, he’ll repay you. It never hurts to have Kiff in your corner, but ultimately if comes down to you.”
In that interview, I also asked Bradley about the fortuitous circumstances that led to him rocketing up the coaching ladder – from I-AA assistant to NFL coordinator.
“You really don’t get time to think about those things. It’s such a humbling profession. You can be riding high one minute and the next you are knocked back to reality. I look at it this way: There are a lot of great coaches in high school and college. It just so happens some guys get opportunities and I got a great opportunity to learn from guys like Kiff and Jon Gruden. That’s an unbelievable opportunity. You can’t help but get better working with people like that.”
You cannot help but think about Bradley’s good fortune. From being denied the head coaching position at NDSU, to engaging Kiffin in a phone conversation, to possibly being an NFL head coach.