Connections to Lovie Smith, Monte Kiffin paid off for Bradley.
RENTON — Gus Bradley’s interview in Seattle was like a marathon, spanning 15 hours and three meals alongside Seahawks coach Jim Mora.
Bradley’s progression through the NFL coaching ranks, however, has been more of a sprint.
Four years ago, Bradley was assistant head coach at North Dakota State, his alma mater. Now, he’s the defensive coordinator in Seattle, hired after getting the endorsement of Monte Kiffin, whose word carries the same weight as a papal decree in NFL circles.
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“I think he’s special,” Kiffin said in a phone interview. “Special, special.”
Bradley must be, considering the breakneck pace at which he has climbed the coaching ladder. There are more than 1,400 miles between Fargo and Seattle, but it turns out there’s only six degrees of separation from Bradley’s college post and becoming the Seahawks defensive coordinator.
1. Rocky Hager, North Dakota State coach (1987-1996)
Hager coached Bradley back when he played safety at North Dakota State. The Bison won NCAA Div. II national championships in 1985, 1986, 1988 and 1990. Hager was defensive coordinator for the first two, head coach for the last two and he saw his safety approach the game with a coach’s savvy.
“He was so completely enthralled with the game-plan part of being a player,” Hager said.
Just one problem. Bradley was studying business. Only P.E. majors could become graduate assistants. Bradley changed the course of his studies, worked two years and then took a full-time job at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., from 1992-95. Hager hired Bradley back to his alma mater as linebackers coach in 1996.
2. Bob Babich, Chicago Bears assistant coach (2004-present)
Babich replaced Hager as head coach less than a year after Bradley was hired. Babich made Bradley his defensive coordinator and later promoted him to assistant head coach.
Babich left NDSU after the 2002 season to serve as linebackers coach in St. Louis in 2003 for Lovie Smith, then the Rams’ defensive coordinator. In 2004, Babich was the first assistant Smith hired to his staff in Chicago. Babich is now the defensive coordinator.
“I thought if there was any opportunity for me to get in the NFL it would be through Bob Babich,” Bradley said.
Turns out it wasn’t quite that easy.
3. Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears coach (2004-present)
Smith played at Tulsa, so did Babich. Smith coached at Tulsa. So did Babich. They were on the same staff for three years in the mid 1980s, and Smith went on to become an assistant in Tampa Bay under coach Tony Dungy and Kiffin, his defensive coordinator. Smith became a disciple of the defensive system known as the Tampa Two, a scheme that emphasizes speed and asks its safeties to cover their respective halves of the field.
4. Monte Kiffin, Tampa Bay defensive coordinator (1996-2008)
Kiffin first called Bradley checking on a job recommendation. He was looking at Bradley’s secondary coach, but as with many conversations between football coaches, it turned into a chalkboard talk between two men comparing their X’s and their O’s.
“It just went deeper and deeper,” Bradley said.
They talked a few more times, and in 2006 Kiffin had a position on his staff for a quality-control coach. There was the possibility of becoming linebackers coach in 2007, but no promises, and then Bradley came in and showed A-plus coaching chops.
Bradley was elevated to linebackers coach in 2007, and served in that role for two seasons.
“He totally exceeded my expectations,” Kiffin said. “He was really under the radar.”
5. James Ernest Mora, New Orleans Saints coach (1986-1996)
Kiffin worked on Mora’s staff for one year in 1995, serving as defensive coordinator. That team had a secondary coach Kiffin calls “JL.” That would be short for James Lawrence, who became Seattle’s coach in January.
6. James Lawrence Mora, Seahawks coach (2009-present)
When Mora set out to assemble his coaching staff, he already had a coach in mind to be his defensive coordinator: Dan Quinn, now the Seahawks’ defensive line coach. A call from Kiffin added a name to consider: Bradley.
“I knew he was going to be a coordinator, and someday a head coach,” Kiffin said. “With some people, you can just feel it. He’s outstanding.”
Bradley’s interview with the Seahawks started at 8 a.m. when Mora picked Bradley up outside his Eastside hotel and it didn’t conclude until 11 p.m. that night. Fifteen hours, capping a three-year rise from an entry-level position on the NFL coaching ladder to being a defensive coordinator.
Turns out there’s only six degrees of separation from Fargo to the Seahawks.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org