Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley has an odd situation this weekend. He has to try to beat the juggernaut he helped build.
For four seasons, Bradley was the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, transforming the defensive unit into what now is one of the best in the NFL.
Bradley opted to leave his stellar creation to take over as the head coach of a franchise in disarray. Does he have any regrets?
“People ask me that a lot,’’ Bradley said on a conference call Wednesday with Seahawks reporters. “I’m just happy for those guys. I’m not going to stop caring for those guys up there. They are very important to me. They gave me a lot and I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in right now if it wasn’t for those guys.
“I hold them in high regard. But this is a new step. I’m excited about this opportunity. We’re not where we want to be yet, but it doesn’t stop us from trying to get there as fast as we can.”
Bradley is as upbeat a football coach as you’ll ever see, which should help in guiding a team that likely will take its lumps this season.
“We’re trying to build something special,’’ Bradley said. “I’ve had a unique opportunity with our staff to really revamp our culture. It gives me the opportunity to share our message.
“We’re seeing our guys get better. We’re still making some mistakes in our growth, but I really like our guys, their attitude and their whole mentality.”
Jacksonville enters Sunday's game at Seattle a 19½-point underdog, partially because of the defense that Bradley guided and the players he developed. He will watch those players from the other side of the field for the first time on Sunday.
“It is weird,” Bradley said. “I watched the film [of the Seahawks defense] with my offensive staff and said, ‘What is Deuce doing there? He can’t do that.’”
Deuce is the nickname Bradley gave Seattle Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas. Bradley first wanted to call Thomas, “Earl the Pearl,” but realized there’s only one of those --former NBA great Earl Monroe.
“But you can be No. 2,’’ Bradley told Thomas, so “Deuce” was born. Bradley also said if he had another son, he wanted to name him Deuce, which says a lot about his relationship with Thomas.
“Deuce is one of the guys I really took to and think the world of,” Bradley said. “To see him playing at that level is great for him. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. He’s really on it.
“It looks like he's playing a little closer to the line of scrimmage, which shows he has a lot of confidence in the guys on the perimeter. He’s just around the ball a lot more.”
Thomas was asked how excited he was when Bradley got the head coaching job at Jacksonville
“I wasn’t excited,” Thomas said smiling. “I wanted him to stay here, but that goes along with being in the NFL.
“It’s gonna be weird [Sunday] because of the relationship we built. I wouldn’t say he was a father to me, but he was like an uncle. He just always believed in me.”
Seattle cornerback Walter Thurmond feels the same way.
“When I was going through all my injuries, Gus never gave up on me,” Thurmond said. “I really appreciated that. There are so many guys on this defense he made better, including me.”
Bradley takes a lot of pride in seeing players like Thomas, cornerback Richard Sherman, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and others become some of the most respected players at their positions in the NFL.
“Those guys are playing really well,” Bradley said. "Dan [Quinn, the new defensive coordinator] and his guys have really got them flying around. They’re impressive.”
Quinn worked with Bradley for two seasons as Seattle’s defensive line coach before becoming the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll brought Quinn back when Bradley left, a way to have a smooth transition with someone who knew Seattle’s defensive system. Quinn has the same positive coaching style that Bradley shares with Carroll.
“Pete and I are very similar in many ways, but there are other ways we’re different,” Bradley said. “You probably could come [to Jacksonville] and see a lot of similarities, but some things are different in trying to stay true to who I am.
“It’s important to be genuine with our guys. I try to be upbeat and positive. To go through this process that way is important to me. Our guys have really responded well.”
Carroll hated to lose Bradley, but knew it was only a matter of time before Bradley became an NFL head coach.
“Gus is such a dynamic personality,” Carroll said. “He’s loaded with the mentality, the mindset, the communication skills and the sensitivity it takes to deal with people and in all areas. There was no question he was preparing to do this and he was ready to do this.
“I couldn’t have been more excited for him. When coaches first come here to join our staff, I tell them, ‘I hope I can help you be the best you can be and get whatever you want in coaching.’ The whole process is preparing them for it if that’s where they want to go. So it’s great when a guy gets the opportunity.”
Bradley basically is starting from scratch at Jacksonville. The Jaguars were 2-14 last season and have started this year 0-2.
“It’s been a new challenge for me,” Bradley said. “I feel my position here is to try to help everybody be at their best. I try to give our coaches an environment where they can excel, and that’s the same thing we’re doing with the players.”
The Seahawks went 5-11 the year Bradley arrived, but improved to an 11-5 playoff team last season. Does Bradley use that as an example of how things can change?
“We don’t talk too much about that,’’ Bradley said. “Probably the last thing the players want to hear is about Seattle. For me, I reflect on times through my career. I was at Fort Lewis College and we got beat by New Mexico Highlands 70-50.
“Talk about taking it on the chin. It goes back to that when you’re starting something. You take those things to learn and grow from it.”
That’s the message Bradley is hoping to convey to his young team. He believes they’re embracing it.
“That’s what I like about our team right now,” Bradley said. “It hurts them when we don’t come out with a victory. It really bothers them, but their attitude the next day is great. That’s where we have the opportunity to get better.”
Sunday could be one of those take-it-on-the-chin moments for the Jaguars and Bradley. Even if that happens, Bradley can walk away thinking, “I helped build that.” Now he’s trying to do it again.