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From FCS to the NFL: Quantifying the rise of Gus Bradley

Seattle Seahawks Gus Bradley was tabbed the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday morning. The coordinator of the NFL's top-ranked defense grabbing a head coaching job isn't at all surprising. In fact, it's to be expected. However, the speed and ferocity of Bradley's hop scotch up the coaching ladder is a story worth telling.

First, the background. The Gus Bradley story starts at North Dakota State, where he played from 1984-88, and as a graduate assistant from 1990-91. He then jumped to Fort Lewis (D-II - CO), where he worked as the defensive coordinator from 1992-95. After four months as the Fort Lewis head coach, Bradley received a call to return to Norht Dakota State where, from 1996-2005, he served seven seasons as the defensive coordinator and six as assistant head coach. 

Then, as Mike McFeely of writes, Bradley was grabbed by the claw of destiny.

"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.'"

As McFeely states, Bradley had made the improbable FCS-to-NFL leap, but he was still only a quality control assistant. At that point, it was on Bradley to prove his worth, and that he did. As the Bucs linebackers coach, he helped Derrick Brooks reach the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2008 and, which landed him a spot as Seattle's defensive coordinator in 2009.

(As an aside, Kiffin again went back to North Dakota State before the 2012 season, plucking Scottie Hazleton to be the Trojans' linebackers coach. Is current Bison defensive coordinator Chris Klieman, the 2012 FootballScoop FCS Coordinator of the Year, the next star to come from the Fargo gold mine?)

Bradley produced instant results in Seattle. His first defense became the first Seahawks defense to post two shutouts in a season since 1986, and in 2011, Seattle ranked in the NFL's top 10 in total defense for only the sixth time in franchise history. This season, as Russell Wilson grabbed all the headlines, the Seahawks led the NFL in total defense en route to the NFC Divisional Playoffs. 

How's this for perspective on how fast Bradley has risen: he will now coach Jaguars center Brad Meester, a 13-year veteran who was in his seventh season in Jacksonville when Bradley made his NFL coaching debut. 

As was pointed out to us on Twitter this morning, Bradley is unique but not alone. After all, Chip Kelly was coaching at New Hampshire up until six years ago. Brian Kelly was coaching in Division II as recently as 2003. That leads us to wonder who the other potential coaching diamonds are currently lying in the rough, but that's another column altogether. 

As for Bradley, while he will be tasked with turning around a team that finished 2-14 in 2012 and hasn't had a winning season since 2007, but his tale is yet another reminder that sometimes it's about the journey, not the destination.