Gus Bradley will return as Jaguars coach for 2016 season

ByMichael DiRocco via ESPN logo
Wednesday, December 30, 2015

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --Jaguarsowner Shad Khan has gone through five head coaches in two years with the London soccer team he owns, but he's sticking withjust one in Jacksonville -- for now.

Khan announced Tuesday afternoon that he is bringing Gus Bradley back for at least one more season, though Bradley will face much higher expectations in 2016, which is the final year of his contract.

"I spoke to Gus Bradley today to confirm to him that he will continue as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016. It's evident to see how far we've come in many aspects of our game, and Gus deserves a lot of credit for that progress," Khan said in a statement. "It's also evident the considerable work that remains to be done to be where we expect to be at this time next season, which is well above where we stand today. And Gus understands that.

[General manager] Dave Caldwell and I also spoke today and we are both confident that Gus will make 2016 the best year of his career. In the meantime, I expect his coaching staff and team to respond favorably to this news in preparation for Houston on Sunday and then begin thinking about what more they can provide next season. We have high ambitions."

Bradley and Caldwell were both hired in 2013 and tasked with rebuilding one of the NFL's worst franchises. The Jaguars hadn't made the playoffs since 2007, which was also the last time they had a winning record.

Bradley won four games in 2013 and three in 2014, and 19 of the 25 losses in those two season were by double digits -- including the first eight games in 2013.

Things have slowly improved, and the Jaguars have been more competitive in 2015. They are 5-10 heading into the season finale at Houston but have only four losses by double digits. Two of those losses are to Carolina and New England.

Things certainly look bright on the offensive side with a young core of players that includes quarterback Blake Bortles, receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, running back T.J. Yeldon, and tight end Julius Thomas. Bortles has already set the franchise's single-season record for touchdown passes (35 and counting) and needs just 179 yards to set the single-season franchise record for passing yards (currently 4,367). Hurns (10 TDs) and Robinson (NFL-high 14 TDs) have both surpassed 1,000 yards receiving, the first time that's happened since Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell in 2001.

The defense, however, has been a problem, especially this season. The Jaguars are on pace to give up the second-most points in franchise history and three of the top five worst scoring defenses in team history have come under Bradley, who helped build Seattle's defense into one of the NFL's best.

Things weren't helped by the fact that first-round pick Dante Fowler Jr. suffered a torn ACL in rookie minicamp and defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, the team's best defensive player and an effective interior pass rusher, played in only four games. He didn't play in the first six because he was coming back from a torn ACL he suffered in the 2014 season finale and was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 18 after suffering a torn triceps against Baltimore.

The Jaguars' plan is to concentrate on the defense in free agency and the 2016 draft, especially at pass rusher, safety and cornerback.

Khan didn't give an indication in his statement what his exact expectations are for Bradley and the franchise in 2016, but it's logical to infer that a winning record would qualify as "well above where we stand today."

That might be hard to do considering the work that must be done on defense and the fact that it's unlikely the AFC South would be as much of a mess as it was in 2015. Indianapolis lost quarterback Andrew Luck for much of the season, and backups Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst have also been hurt. Tennessee started a rookie quarterback in Marcus Mariota who showed flashes that he could be headed for a bright career. Houston has started four quarterbacks because of injuries.

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