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The Gus Bradley–Punch Line Era Is Over

The embattled Jaguars coach was fired Sunday

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Gus Bradley was always going to get fired as the Jaguars coach. It was just a matter of time: Bradley was 14–48 in three-plus years as Jacksonville’s coach. One hundred and seventy-one men have coached at least 50 NFL games, and Bradley’s .226 winning percentage is the 170th-best. Nobody has been allowed to coach for so long and win so rarely since the 1930s. Gus Bradley wasn’t exactly a big coaching name — ESPN’s tweet about his firing originally included a picture of the team’s defensive coordinator and only Jaguars fans seemed to notice — but his winning percentage was so historically bad that we had to make fun of it.

So it was more “when” than “if” with regard to Bradley’s firing, but the “when” — Sunday afternoon in Houston — was still pretty fascinating. Bradley’s Jags showed a rare moment of competence in a dark 2–12 season, taking a 13–0 lead in the second quarter on the AFC South–leading Texans. That’s when Houston subbed in backup QB Tom Savage — career stats: 10-for-19 with an interception — and Savage helped Houston to a 21–20 victory. Bradley was officially fired before the team got to the airport, meaning he had to sit on the plane with the team he no longer coached.

No single game could cost a coach with such a dismal record their job. But this was a come-from-ahead defeat against an opponent’s backup QB. That turned out to be too much for even the success-starved Jaguars to bear. No matter what happens in the rest of his career, we can say Tom Savage killed an NFL coach’s job a bit earlier than expected. It was the ninth straight loss for the Jaguars, a team that hoped at the beginning of the year to be somewhere close to playoff contention. Last year was their best under Bradley: They won five games and Blake Bortles looked all right for a second-year QB. This year, Bortles regressed mightily and the Jaguars foundered.

The easy way to look at this is to assume that Jacksonville is a land where only failure is possible. The Jags are among our most-mocked franchises, although nobody’s taking that most-mocked title from the Browns. (Cleveland truly has become the land of championships.) But of the three people to coach Jacksonville for more than one season, Bradley is the only one who actually sustained failure. In 17 seasons under Tom Coughlin and Jack Del Rio, the Jaguars had only one year worse than Bradley’s best: their 4–12 inaugural season.

I told you Bradley had the second-worst record of all time, so you’re probably wondering who has the worst record. That would be Bert Bell, who went 10–46–2 for a horrific .179 winning percentage. Bell quarterbacked Penn in the 1917 Rose Bowl, fought in World War I, and became the first owner and coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles were bad, which meant they didn’t have any fans, which meant they didn’t have a lot of money, which meant Bell couldn’t sign the prospects that he needed to make his team good. Bell recognized how hard the cycle was to break, so he pushed for a more equitable method of distributing players among the teams. Bell was the man whose teams were so bad that he invented the NFL draft.

Bradley’s teams did not take advantage of Bell’s innovation. They’ve had four picks in the top five in Bradley’s four years — four opportunities to select a franchise changer. Jalen Ramsey, their most recent pick, might be one. Dante Fowler lost his first year to injury and hasn’t looked amazing in his redshirt rookie season. Luke Joeckel was drafted as a tackle, but lost his job this year in training camp, got pushed to guard, and hasn’t looked particularly great there. And Bortles is the player who is most responsible for Bradley losing his job: A historically bad coach whose quarterback is coming along might have a chance at keeping his job. A historically bad coach whose QB looks like a rookie in Year 3 doesn’t have a chance.

I wonder what that plane ride home was like. Did Bradley’s now-former players talk to the man who they so recently played for? Did the assistant coaches he hired empathize with him, realizing their jobs would probably soon be over as well? Did they reminisce about the good times, the three hands’ worth of wins across the years? Did they complain about the team’s upper management for putting them in a bad position? Did they try to tell Bradley he’d actually done a good job? I wouldn’t know what to say to a guy who had just lost his job. So I’m guessing Gus Bradley stared out the window, done with one of the worst coaching jobs in football history. The Gus Bradley–Punch Line Era has ended.