The Bill Walsh coaching tree sprouted another branch last week, as the Jacksonville Jaguars pried away Gus Bradley, the former defensive coordinator for Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks. As the Jaguars’ head coach, Bradley faces the task of creating a contender from a squad that has spent the last few years wallowing in mediocrity. Fortunately for Jacksonville, he comes to them from an organization that has recently accomplished that very thing.
Bradley joined the Seahawks’ coaching staff in 2009, under head coach Jim Mora. He came with a personal recommendation from famed NFL defensive guru Monte Kiffin, who happens to be one of Pete Carroll’s mentors. When Mora was fired after a miserable ’09-’10 season, Carroll replaced him as the head coach, and he chose to keep Bradley as his defensive coordinator. In the three years since then, under the watchful eye of Bradley and Carroll, the Seahawks defense has improved markedly. In 2010, they allowed 25.4 points per game, good for 25th in the league. In 2012, that number dropped to 15.3, which led the entire NFL. The Jaguars hope this type of improvement can be contagious.
But how will the Seahawks fare as they move forward? I believe three factors will provide the continuity they need to experience sustained success without Bradley. Let’s look at all three.
The Seahawks had the third-youngest defense heading into the 2012 season. They likely will not retain veterans like Marcus Trufant and LeRoy Hill, and even younger vets like Alan Branch and Jason Jones may not return. So even though their defense is already an elite unit, it could still stand a little seasoning. As young contributors like K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, and Bruce Irvin continue to learn and grow, the unit as a whole will improve. With an influx of fresh talent from the draft and free agency, the Seahawks defensive talent will continue to set the curve in the NFL.
Continuity in Coaching Philosophy
Within hours of the announcement of Bradley’s hire in Jacksonville, the Seahawks announced the hire of his replacement: Dan Quinn, recent defensive coordinator/defensive line coach for the University of Florida. Quinn was the Seahawks defensive line coach under Bradley in 2009 and 2010. Prior to that, he coached the defensive line for the 49ers (’03-’04), the Dolphins (’05-’06), and the Jets (’07-’08).
This last season, his Florida unit ranked fifth in the nation in scoring defense (14.46ppg), sixth in yards per carry (2.98), second in pass efficiency defense, and only allowed seven passing TDs all year, despite facing more than 34 passing attempts per game. And perhaps most importantly, given Seattle’s issues on third down defense this season (allowed 38.71%, 17th in the NFL), the Gators allowed a remarkable 31.02% third-down conversion rate, good for 10th in the nation.
Quinn is intimately acquainted with the system, knows many of the players, and has a good history. He should mesh comfortably into the Seahawks’ DC position.
Pete Carroll’s Influence
When a defensive coordinator rises up under a known defensive guru, people tend to question whether or not he is a lame duck. After all, the head coach likely has final say on personnel, scheme, and game-plan. Is the DC just riding his head coach’s coattails to success? Or is he positively influencing the defense apart from his boss? Often, a team eyeing such a candidate for a head coaching position may not care so much whether he was influential in personnel acquisition or scheme implementation. They know he is fluent in the scheme they covet, so they bring him on to relay the knowledge he gleaned from “the guru.”
In this case, Bradley has cut his NFL coaching teeth in a very unique scheme. Pete Carroll’s base defense of choice is an unbalanced one-gap 4-3 Under with an oversized two-gapping 5-technique and an undersized Leo end (read here, here, and here for a more detailed breakdown). It’s complicated, but it’s also pretty unique, and it wasn’t Bradley’s brainchild. Make no mistake about it, Gus Bradley was running Pete Carroll’s defense in Seattle. Bradley ran it well, because he is a smart, capable leader of men, and he should do very well in Jacksonville.
But Pete Carroll is the guru, and the Seahawks' defense belongs to him. As long as he is in Seattle, the defensive coordinator is a little less important.