Chris Clemons knew he had it in him. An undrafted rookie free agent, he floated on the Redskins roster for two years without getting a chance to really prove himself. Finally, with the Oakland Raiders, he was a major contributor on defense with eight sacks in a limited role. At season's end he was rewarded in free agency by the Eagles, who gave him a five-year contract with the hope that he could duplicate his production on a defensive line that included Trent Cole, Juqua Thomas, and Victor Abiamiri. It didn't happen. He could not get on the field for enough plays and never had more than four sacks or 15 tackles in each of his two seasons. Then, prior to the 2010 season, the Eagles traded Clemons to the Seahawks in a package for Darryl Tapp. And that's when Clemons met Gus Bradley.
Gus Bradley was a fan of Clemons. Bradley recognized his talent and production and, like the Eagles, recognized his potential at the leo/elephant position, a hybrid stand-up defensive end rushing from the weakside in a 4-3 scheme. After the signing, Bradley said of Clemons that he liked "his length and speed. As you can imagine, if he's always on the end you need a guy who has great speed coming off the edge and great pass rush. So I think his length and speed are great assets for him." Under Bradley's tutelage Clemons produced. A lot. He has at least eleven sacks and 40 tackles in each of the last three seasons, as well as three forced fumbles in each of the last two. Unfortunately, Clemons tore his ACL in the Seahawks' victory against Washington, but it's Clemons' growth in Seattle that demonstrates why the Eagles need Bradley as their head coach.
In a 2009 Seattle P-I article, Clare Farnsworth recounts how then new Seahawks head coach Jim Mora hired Gus Bradley:
Mora said it was a call from [Monte] Kiffin that got Bradley an interview for the defensive coordinator job, even though Bradley has been in the NFL for only three seasons. Re-creating the call from Kiffin, Mora slipped into his high-pitched, rapid-delivery impersonation: " 'Hey, J.L., J.L., I got to talk to you about this guy Gus Bradley.' "
Mora worked for Kiffin with the New Orleans Saints, when both were on the staff of Mora's father. Kiffin still calls the younger Mora "J.L.," and it's relevant because the younger Mora has repeatedly been referred to as "Jim Mora Jr." by the national media in recent weeks. He is not a Junior, but Jim L. Mora (for Lawrence). His father is Jim E. Mora (for Earnest). But it was more what Kiffin said about Bradley than the way he said it that prompted Mora to bring the Tampa Bay linebackers coach in for an interview. "Monte says, 'J.L., listen to me. I have got a guy here in Tampa that is one of, if not, the finest football coaches I have ever worked with. He's an A-plus. He's a once-in-a-lifetime coach. You need to talk to him,'" Mora recalled. "He said, 'J.L., this guy is special. You have to bring him in. You have to talk to him.'"
Once in the building, Mora took Bradley to the limit. From 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. last Wednesday, they talked about everything from ways to generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks to how they like to spend those rare moments of downtime. "I spent 15 consecutive hours with Gus," Mora said. "Because I felt that was an incredibly important decision to make: Who was going to be our defensive coordinator? Who I was going to put in the room with that group of men, so that they can reach the level of play that they need to reach for us to bring a Super Bowl (title) to the city of Seattle. "Through the course of the day, I realized, boy, Monte is dead on. This guy is special."
Even though Mora's stint with the Seahawks was short-lived, Pete Carroll, who became the Seahawks coach in 2010, was impressed enough with Bradley's leadership and ability to retain him, significant because Carroll is a defensive-minded coach with his own philosophies. According to Carroll, "He's the best teacher I've ever been around. He's so thorough, so thoughtful, and he'll go to such lengths to find ways to make sense of the information so the guys can understand it in practical ways. It doesn't matter how good we teach. It's how well they learn. I think that connection is really clear with Gus. He's great at it." An example of one of those connections is Bradley's message to "be allergic to the big meal. Eat the crumbs." It's another way of saying be humble and stay hungry. He gave his players plates full of crumbs for emphasis. And his players have responded. In his fourth year as Seattle's defensive coordinator, the Seahawks have the top scoring defense in the league.
The Eagles have a recent lineage of top defensive coaches upon which fans draw much pride: Buddy Ryan's Gang Green defense, Jim Johnson's bend-but-don't-break-get-after-the-quarterback approach... the city of Philadelphia enjoys it's defense. What Jeff Lurie needs to recognize is that Andy Reid's best teams were not defined by his offense, but by Jim Johnson's defense. More often any criticisms or weaknesses of his early playoff teams were offense-related: time management, play-calling, McNabb's poor throws, etc. Chris Clemons' emergence should illustrate to Lurie how another (possibly better?) coach corrected a mistake of his previous one. Jeff Lurie is fond of Eagles history, so he should recognize this fact. Or, he can look back no further than Buddy Ryan, a hot-shot defensive coordinator who developed and coached the league's top defense before becoming a head coach of the Eagles. Sound familiar? If history is any indication, once Bradley and Lurie are in the same room talking football together, Lurie will be sold. Granted, despite the competitiveness of Ryan's teams, they never won a playoff game. But what good is history if we cannot learn from and improve upon it? How hungry is Lurie?