RENTON — While his ability to run a defense is still considered a work in progress, Gus Bradley has certainly established himself in one aspect of life.
The Seattle Seahawks’ new defensive coordinator is an ace at making first impressions.
Bradley, whose real name is Casey but has gone by Gus since he was 2 years old, exudes the kind of enthusiasm that wins people over right away. Such was the case when Bradley answered a call from longtime Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who was looking for a recommendation for one of Bradley’s North Dakota State assistants but eventually offered Bradley himself an interview.
Four years later, Bradley’s passion won over Seahawks coach Jim Mora, who hired him after knowing the 42-year-old assistant coach for less than a day.
Now in his first stint as an NFL coordinator, Bradley is hoping that the passion he brings will carry over to an underachieving defense.
“This job right here is extremely important to me,” he said. “I think our staff is made up of very good coaches and very good people who are driven to get this going in the right direction. I love to be a part of that. I can sell out to that, and I think I convey that to the players.”
Bradley’s passion was evident even in an informal session with a few Seattle reporters on Wednesday. With his shaven head, friendly eyes and eager smile, Bradley exudes an enthusiasm that is likely to be the signature of his defense. The former Tampa Bay assistant said that he favors an aggressive scheme built on constant pressure.
“One of the differences you could see is that we’ll be more of an attacking defense, and attacking doesn’t always mean blitz-heavy but pressure-heavy,” he said. “One thing it sounds like from visiting with players and coaches is that I think there needs to be a high demand on our players.”
The source of Bradley’s passion dates all the way back to childhood, when he fell in love with football as a young fan of the Iowa State University team. He played safety and punted for the North Dakota State football team in the late 1980s before joining that staff as an assistant coach.
In 2005, Bradley was serving as the Bison’s defensive coordinator when Kiffin called in search of a recommendation for one of North Dakota State’s other defensive coaches. Bradley and Kiffin got to talking about the Tampa-2 defense, and eventually Kiffin offered a future interview.
The next fall, Bradley joined the Buccaneers as a quality control coach.
“I’ve never worried about going into a situation saying: ‘What happens if I don’t answer this right?’” Bradley said when asked why he’s such a successful interviewee. “I just try to be myself, do the best I can and do it with passion, and see what happens.”
Bradley spent three seasons in Tampa Bay, eventually serving as linebackers coach. Kiffin was so impressed with him that the longtime coordinator called Mora last month and practically begged him to give Bradley an interview.
That interview was a 15-hour session that included talk about backgrounds, families and — mostly — football. Mora was so taken with Bradley that he offered him the coordinator position.
“Through the course of the day,” Mora said last month, shortly after hiring Bradley, “I realized, boy, Monte is dead-on. This guy is special.”
Said Bradley of that January meeting: “It just went on and on and on. To me, and probably to coach Mora, it didn’t seem that long. We looked up and realized how long we were (talking).”
The big question is not so much how motivated Bradley is but how he’ll be able to turn around the Seahawks’ underachieving defense.
He admitted that he’ll bring elements of the Buccaneers’ Tampa-2 system, a highly successful scheme that often includes a zone-like defense with each safety taking one half of the field. Bradley also intends to be more aggressive.
“I think there’s a conception that the Tampa-2 is all that Tampa did under Monte Kiffin. And that’s not necessarily the case,” he said. “One thing that made Monte Kiffin a great NFL coach is that he had the ability to adapt and adjust. We played Cover-2, we played an 8-man front, we zone pressured, we brought man pressure. There were a lot of things we did, and that’s what made us unique.”
During a short session with reporters on Wednesday, Bradley proved most animated when discussing the intricacies of football.
“It’s great to see someone take on a fullback, a linebacker getting over the top, a safety going, keeping good leverage,” he said, his eyes lighting up and his words pouring out at a quicker pace. “I just feel so strongly about those things, and I think it can convey over to the players. Hopefully, they play with that same enthusiasm and passion.”
Getting the most out of Seattle’s defense will be quite a task. But one thing Bradley can almost guarantee is that he’ll be passionate about the job.
“There’s a difference between being passionate and excited and being crazy or out of control,” he said. “I hope I’m not out of control. But I get excited. When a player makes a big play, yeah, I’ll get excited.
“And when the players see me that excited, it’s going to transfer over. When you believe in something so strongly, they’ll believe — or one of us won’t be here anymore.”