JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — I don't like the word deserve. I think it speaks to entitlement more than hard work. It may be semantics but I prefer the word earned instead of deserve.
It's a hard sell to say Gus Bradley earned another year as the Jacksonville Jaguars head coach if you look at his overall record of 12-35.
I think Bradley earned another year in charge of the Jaguars for more than his won-loss record. I think he earned the loyalty, the respect and the trust of owner Shad Khan and general manager Dave Caldwell.
Three years ago, Khan signed off on a plan put in place by his newly-hired GM, Caldwell. Caldwell and Khan said they were going to do things a little different than the NFL norm and be unconventional at times.
The plan was to strip the organization down and start all over. The plan in all reality meant a good deal of losing with a bad roster in year one and an exceptionally young roster in year two.
The lure of a head coaching job in the NFL is exciting, but Bradley didn't have to sign up for what Caldwell called in January 2015 "the hardest job in the NFL the last two years."
Was it impossible to win or at least have a better record? No. In three years, I think the Jags should have won more than 12 games, but not many more. I can't believe Bradley won four games with that roster in year one. Ask people around the NFL and that 2013 roster will go down as one of the worst in NFL history.
I think Bradley and the Jags should have won five games in 2014 instead of three -- even with a rookie quarterback. This year, I penciled the Jags in for six wins at the start of the year -- they may reach that mark with a win over Houston in the final week of the season.
The way the 2015 season played out, I do think the Jags could have won more like seven or eight games and maybe even snuck into the playoffs, but let's not pretend this Jaguars team should have done that. Should implies you have a good team -- the Jags are not a good team.
The plan was unconventional in the sense that rebuilds in the NFL usually turn around in two or three years. The Caldwell plan, sold to Bradley, was a four- to five-year plan in my opinion. Sure, an early arrival in year three would have been welcomed but that was more wishful thinking than planned.
I think Bradley was asked to develop these young players and put a foundation in place that will sustain for years to come. There's a chance Bradley won't be around to see the fruits of that labor, but there is evidence he has done some good things.
The development of players is evident with what the offense has done. While Greg Olson has been instrumental in Blake Bortles' success, the bond Bortles and Bradley have developed is obvious and important. While the wins might be behind schedule, the development of the franchise quarterback is ahead of the curve.
Bradley has created a culture that resonates within the walls of Jags headquarters and especially the walls of the locker room. When coaches get fired there is usually a divide in the locker room - see Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. The Jags players would run through a wall for Bradley, and they respect him just as much as a man as they do a coach.
Even with noise outside the walls about his job, Bradley never wavered from the development of players. If Bradley felt his job was on the line at times this season, he would have kicked the field goal against Buffalo instead of going for it on 4th and goal. If he thought his job was on the line the last few weeks, why would he put Nick Marshall in the starting lineup instead of trusting other players who have been around for three years? If you thought your job was on the line, would you rather have a rookie kicker or an 11-year veteran on the roster?
Bradley's biggest fault might be his loyalty to coaches and to players, but his loyalty to Caldwell's plan has kept the coach and general manager in a good working relationship. Caldwell told me at midseason that their relationship was stronger than it's ever been in three years.
Rewind the tape from the introductory news conferences for Caldwell and Bradley. Both men identified their relationship as the key to success for this organization.
Caldwell and Khan never hinted that this would be a must-win-or-else year for Bradley. Instead, Caldwell has saved his free agency money to spend this upcoming offseason - year No. 4. Caldwell signed free agents last year and spent some money but they were low-risk deals and nothing that hinted the Jags were all in on 2015. Caldwell has tried to fix some of the defense, but he certainly hasn't invested the resources yet into that side of the football and it has showed.
Think about how risky this plan has been for Bradley. Even with a few more wins, the overall record was never going to look that good, which could prevent Bradley from another head coaching job opportunity down the road. The other risk is now the plan puts a lot of eggs in the year-four basket and the future of the head coach. Also, the plan was to fix the offense first, which doesn't necessarily cater to your defensive-minded head coach.
All of this doesn't mean Bradley is without fault. We don't know if Bradley is a great coach, good coach or a bad coach.
We know three years ago Bradley was loyal to the plan, he respected the plan and he trusted the plan of Khan and Caldwell. Despite 12 wins in three years, Khan and Caldwell returned the favor this week by bringing Bradley back for another year. As unconventional as it was, the move was probably deserved, but more importantly it was well-earned.
Cox Media Group