MOBILE, Ala. – They stood among their peers, standing out at the same time.
This was David Caldwell Tuesday morning at the Senior Bowl, and it was Gus Bradley, too – the Jaguars’ new general manager, and their new head coach, making their NFL debuts in the highest-profile positions of their careers.
This was a day about congratulations, for smiles, and for shaking hands – and for Bradley, even signing autographs.
“A lot of distractions,” the affable, engaging Bradley said with a laugh.
Early in the morning, fresh off the plane from Jacksonville, Caldwell stood surrounded by a gaggle of 10 reporters. NFL coaches and personnel officials walked by, peering to see the man at the center of the crowd.
“Dang, looks like Nick Saban’s here,” one passer-by said, jokingly referencing the crowd the University of Alabama head coach draws each year at the Senior Bowl.
For Caldwell, and the Jaguars’ “brass,” it was *that* kind of day.
“It’s been great,” Bradley said. “There are a lot of people who have helped me out the last few years in the league, and I’m very appreciative of that.”
Caldwell, Bradley, new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and defensive coordinator Bob Babich – all hired in the last three weeks – all were among the Jaguars’ contingent to arrive in Mobile Tuesday.
“It’s an awesome day,” Fisch said as he spoke to reporters early in the North practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
And in a very real sense, the Jaguars were the story around the Senior Bowl Tuesday – if not THE story, at least one of the biggest stories – and throughout the morning practice, there was a decided buzz around Jaguars officials.
That was true of Fisch, making his first Senior Bowl trip in a couple of years after being at the University of Miami the past two years. And it was true of Babich, a perennial Senior Bowl visitor with the Chicago Bears the last 10 years.
It was true of Caldwell, who has attended many of these games and weeks as a scout with the Indianapolis Colts, and as a front-office executive with Atlanta.
But this was Caldwell’s first trip as a GM, and yes, that made it memorable.
Caldwell spent much of the morning greeting well-wishers, with the subject often two-fold – his new job in charge of the Jaguars’ front office and the success of his former team, which lost in the NFC Championship game Sunday.
“I’m not sure if they’re congratulating me on the Falcons’ season or my job,” he said with a smile. “But it’s great. There’s a great fraternity here, so there’s a lot of great people in this business and a lot of supportive people.”
But around the Jaguars on Tuesday, no one gathered a crowd quite like Bradley.
Bradley, hired last Thursday and introduced Friday as the Jaguars’ head coach, is still largely unknown to the Jacksonville fan base, but within NFL circles – while a veteran of “just” seven seasons – he clearly is well-liked and well-respected.
He, like Caldwell, spent much of his first Senior Bowl practice as head coach shaking hands, accepting congratulations and getting used to not just being a guy, but The Guy. The morning, too, was a brief respite in the ongoing process of shaping a coaching staff, which continued on Tuesday with the news that former New Orleans Saints special teams coach Mike Mallory had been hired as special teams coach and that defensive line coach Joe Cullen had taken a similar position with Cleveland.
On Monday, it had been announced that wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan and linebackers coach Mark Duffner had been retained.
“It feels good, because we’re in the hiring process and the staffing,” Bradley said. “We’ve really worked hard the last couple of days. It’s been long hours making phone calls at 2 and 2:30 in the morning. It’s been a great process and it’s starting to come together.
Bradley said the process has been pretty much non-stop since his hiring.
“You’re running on adrenaline,” he said. “It’s been great.”
Fisch and Babich each spoke with reporters, too, with Fisch saying the Jaguars will run an offense built around the personnel. Babich, for his part, said the Jaguars will “definitely” run a 4-3 defense that plays fast and “gets better every day.”
“I’m very fortunate to get on board with a guy like Gus Bradley,” said Babich, the head coach at North Dakota State when Bradley worked there as an assistant from 1997-2002. “I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a high-energy smart coach, so for it to work out like this – it’s an exciting time.”
The two also talked about the excitement of new opportunity, with Fisch working with Bradley in Seattle in 2010, for the University of Miami the last two years and accepting his first NFL coordinator position when Bradley offered the Jaguars’ position on Saturday.
“It was an awesome phone call I got from Gus when he took the job,” Fisch said, “and it’s an awesome feeling to walk in here today. Today is an opportunity for Gus to celebrate. All the years of being an assistant coach, for him to walk out as one of eight new head coaches – I think it’s so special for him.
“I was just glad to be a part of it.”
Bradley, who was under serious consideration for the Philadelphia Eagles’ position last week, also drew significant attention from Philadelphia media Tuesday. He spoke of the admiration and appreciation he had for that franchise, and said at the same time, once he met with Caldwell last Wednesday, there was no question in his mind that the Jaguars were the right position.
“I fell in love with the place,” he said, adding that when he met with Caldwell he had a feeling of, “This guy’s incredible – we just hit it off. My interest level in Jacksonville just really took off.”That feeling, he said, only has grown in the six days since, a period that led to Tuesday, the first day of the rest of his NFL career, his first day as head coach among his NFL peers, and absolutely, unquestionably a day he and others around the Jaguars long will remember long after it is gone.