I apologize for the name-dropping story and it isn't my intention to write about anything irrelevant. It's just something humorous about some current events in the NFL.
I was a freshman at North Dakota State University, and after a semester of changing my major from psychology to mass communication (journalism emphasis), I came to the realization my high school football coach really didn't teach me much.
In covering the football team the previous year I found myself seeking out head coach Bob Babich (an Aliquippa native) on a regular basis, and I would pepper him with questions, probably on a very basic level.
He tolerated me probably for two reasons. First, because I told him I was from Pittsburgh, which he loved (thick Yinzer accent). Second, because I went to high school with two guys he recruited extensively.
I burned the capital of those connections very quickly, I'm sure, but after a while, Babich (who may have been joking) suggested I could help the team and be in a position to learn all these things I was asking by being a student manager. I looked into it, and while I didn't feel I'd have the time to do that along with the newspaper responsibilities I had, I eventually took an internship with the school's Sports Information Department.
In that, I helped compile the upcoming season's football program and assisted with off-season marketing stuff.
Those duties only took up maybe a third of my time, and I spent the rest bugging Babich and his coaching staff.
Babich was an outstanding coach from a P.R. perspective, very funny, energetic, friendly. He loved the school newspaper guys, probably because we were easily dazzled with access and the free pizza available at the football pressers each week (I still crave Domino's pepperoni pizza at noon on Tuesdays).
I covered NDSU's football team for five seasons, but worked for the school and the paper at the same time during the first and second of those seasons. The experiences I gained from that were above anything I'd ever gain again.
During the season, I assisted the video assistants in cutting the film the coaches would watch, and I eventually found a way to convince them to let me stay while they analyzed it the day after games.
Games were played Saturday nights, so I went to the game as a reporter, got answers to questions, wrote the story at the computer lab and went back to "help" cut film. The guys who went over the film were typically 23-year-old aspiring coaches who had just graduated from somewhere usually as players (although some were student managers who wanted to get into coaching). Nearly all of them chewed tobacco and rarely went home.
I remember one guy sleeping in his car because he was worried he'd get home, get in his bed and not wake up for a day.
They would usually analyze film in their own way, pointing out things, calling out different players and injecting their own opinion on things. The job was simply to get the film ready for the NDSU coaching staff as well as next week's team, but it was impossible to not break it down as we were watching it.
That lasted well into the night, and from there, I might have ended up back at the dorms for a few hours. I'd get up again around 7 a.m., head back to the Fargodome where the coaches were already well into the tape. I'd always come in, their over-caffeinated eyes trained on me as if I was some kind of intruder. A few coaches had their Kodiak, some went through sunflower seeds by the pound and all of them drank either coffee or Mountain Dew.
I got daring enough at one point to sit down after my standard question (the only one it was ever implied I was allowed to ask), "Do you guys need anything?" went unanswered.
I didn't say a word, but listened into what they were saying. They broke down everything amongst themselves, and after a while I learned their language. Terms like "spill" and "base" and "robber" started making sense.
It was clear in those reviews, outside of Babich, one coach drew the most attention when he spoke. He was dry, pretty to-the-point and he always had a way of relating what he said to something they just spoke about.
He always spoke politely, using his target's first name, like, "I agree, Bob, but if Skyberg is the force Ahneman needs to fill."
It was obvious he was an outstanding communicator, and while I didn't have a ton of individual interaction with him, I learned a ton just listening to him speak.
That coach was Casey "Gus" Bradley - the new head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
One of the clearest memories I have of Bradley was in 2001 after NDSU beat its hated arch rival, North Dakota, for the famed Nickel Trophy. I wasn't with the team anymore, having been hired as the sports editor of the school newspaper. I still was up there all the time, still annoying them and asking questions.
I was up there on Monday, tracking down stories and talking to the other reporters there. Bradley strolled through the office the way he did, as if he was putting together the one-liner he wanted to drop on everyone in his head. He had that kind of command on an audience; six or seven journalists sitting around, knowing he was going to say something entertaining.
He walked in my direction, eyes on me, then somewhere else like he didn't notice, then eyes back on me. When he got to me, he gave me a familiar pat on the shoulder, and said, "We used that blitz you suggested in your column last week."
Taken aback, I blurted out "really??" as I quickly tried to remember what would have been the only time I ever wrote something like that.
Bradley paused for a second, turned toward the door, and bluntly said, "No."
Everyone within earshot broke out laughing, and I grew beet-red, laughing myself but insisting to the crowd I didn't suggest any kind of blitz.
He always smiled at me when he saw me after that, as if he was apologizing for making me the target of the gag, but knowing full-well he wouldn't take it back either.
Over the years, I would see him and sometimes say, "hey, I gotta great blitz idea, coach!" He sometimes laughed, sometimes put on a face of mock interest, and would say "Yeah? Write it up!"
Babich was the face of the team but Bradley was the heart of it. The school announced before the start of my senior year they would begin the transition to Division I status. The spring of that year, Babich resigned, having accepted the linebackers coach position under Lovie Smith, the newly hired defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams.
The NDSU football players openly petitioned the school to name Bradley as Babich's replacement. The school chose to hire Craig Bohl, a former defensive coordinator a Nebraska, due to his Division I experience.
Bradley stuck around for a while, eventually becoming the defensive coordinator, before leaving for the NFL, right around the time Babich was named the defensive coordinator for the Bears after Lovie was hired as the head coach of the Bears (it would only last a year, and Babich was fired along with Lovie at the end of this season).
Bradley would end up a defensive assistant in Tampa Bay, and eventually, the defensive coordinator in Seattle.
This is a ton of name-dropping, I know, but I've told Jaguars fans now they have an absolutely phenomenal coach, and a helluva guy. It's fun to see the stuff we don't see reported often - a Division II player, then assistant, then coordinator, get into the pros and climb the ladder. It's kind of crazy to see Babich is now interviewing for Bradley's old position, and nothing at all against Babich, but it's not surprising Bradley is a head coach.
So there's your Saturday name-dropping story.