COSTA MESA, Calif. — Gus Bradley’s coaching career is back on track. The Chargers will soon find out whether that track leads out of Los Angeles.
One year after getting fired as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ head coach with a miserable 14-48 record, Bradley is wrapping up his first season as the coordinator of a strong defense for the Chargers (8-7), who still have playoff hopes heading into their regular-season finale against Oakland.
Bradley’s defense is third in the NFL with just 17.5 points allowed per game, posting the Chargers’ best such mark in a decade while shutting down most opponents’ passing games and forcing turnovers in bunches. According to his new players, Bradley’s game-planning and teaching acumen have played a major part in the Chargers’ surge from an 0-4 start to a possible winning record.
“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around,” said Melvin Ingram, the Chargers’ standout pass-rusher. “He’s a players’ coach, and he really knows how to relate, and he really knows how to teach defenses to us.”
This season isn’t exactly a rehabilitation of Bradley’s image, since his Jaguars defenses were still solid. But Bradley still left Jacksonville with the NFL’s worst record for a head coach who made it through at least 60 games.
His success this season could cost the Chargers: The NFL Network reported last weekend that Bradley only signed a one-year deal with the club, and suitors are nearly certain to line up for this pending free agent, who had a successful run as Seattle’s defensive coordinator before leading the Jags.
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn left no doubt how he feels about Bradley.
“I’d think it’s very important to keep him around,” Lynn said. “He’s the defensive coordinator here. If it’s a head job, shoot, yeah, I’d love to see Gus get another head job. I’d tell anybody that will listen what type of coach he is and what type of man he is. But we’d love to have him here, too.”
Bradley isn’t interested in discussing his future just yet.
“I mean, it sounds like coach-talk, but I haven’t even thought about it,” Bradley said. “I think all of those things will take care of itself. I really enjoy it here, the players and the staff. So really, everything we’re doing now is, ‘What are we doing on third down? What are we doing on red zone?’ And I’ve always been a believer that those things will take care of themselves.”
Despite a miserable ranking in run defense, Bradley has built a unit that excels in several important areas. The Chargers’ plus-10 turnover margin is fifth in the league, and they have 12 interceptions over the past six games alone. The Bolts’ dominant pass defense has yet to allow a 100-yard receiver, and it ranks third overall in the league in yards passing allowed per game.
Bradley praises his players for their success, but also points at the guys on the other side of the ball.
“When I was hired here, I was excited because I thought this race to maturity would happen quicker maybe here than other places because of the offense we’re going against,” Bradley said of the unit led by quarterback Philip Rivers. “That helped us, going against our offense every day in OTAs and training camp. … You also have to give credit to the players. We have a really sharp group. They communicate very well. They know in order for us to be successful, they have to be on everything, and they’re very detailed.”
Bradley has aided the development of Joey Bosa and Ingram as one of the NFL’s top pass-rushing duos. They’ve combined for 21 1/2 sacks and made life miserable for opponents in a scheme that relies less on blitzing and more on mismatch exploitation.
“I think it’s really the way he teaches the scheme which makes it so easy to pick up,” Ingram said. “He gives you just several rules. You’ve either got this, or you’ve got this. And when you’ve got less things to think about, you can go out there and play fast and have fun.”