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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 16 2011

All grown up: Former Bison coaches Bradley, Babich now in NFL

There were no gray hairs or facial wrinkles, yet, from being a college football coach. The 2001 staff at North Dakota State for the most part was young and somewhat inexperienced.

Nine years later, that’s no longer the case and almost all of them moved on to bigger and better things. Look no further than today’s NFC playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Chicago Bears. The defensive coordinator for Seattle is former NDSU defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. The linebackers coach for the Bears is former head coach Bob Babich.

“You’re competing every week with the best in the world so it keeps you on your toes,” Babich said. “And at the same time, you have fun with it.”

Obviously, it’s more fun when you win. The Bears won the NFC North division title and got a first round bye. The Seahawks won the West division despite finishing with a losing record, but they put that behind them with a first-round win over New Orleans, the defending Super Bowl champions.

Combined this season, 2001 Bison staff members Bradley, Babich, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line coach Todd Wash, Jacksonville Jaguars assistant Johnny Cox, NDSU offensive coordinator Brent Vigen and defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton, St. Thomas University (Minn.) head coach Glenn Caruso and Old Dominion defensive coordinator Andy Rondeau coached teams that had a combined 66-37 record.

Not all ended well. The Buccaneers reportedly did not renew Wash’s contract earlier this week after three years with the club (he’s still listed on the club’s website). Neither Wash nor Bradley could be reached for comment.

Cox, the wide receivers coach in ’01, is a defensive quality control coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who went 8-8 this season. All of the ex-Bison in the NFL can trace their roots to Tampa Bay and the Tampa 2 defense.

Cox spent the 2008 season with Tampa. Bradley was hired by Tampa in 2006 and Wash joined him a year later.

“Gus broke through at Tampa,” said Vigen. “It provided opportunity and connections for Johnny and Todd and they both made their own way after that. The NFL is a matter of breaking that barrier, but once you get in there, you have to prove yourself.”

Vigen and Hazelton helped the Bison to the quarterfinals of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in December. Caruso, who was the running backs coach in ‘01, led the Tommies to an undefeated regular season and a Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title. He was named the MIAC Coach of the Year.

Rondeau, the ‘01 defensive backs coach, is the defensive coordinator for a rather new FCS program that is joining the powerful Colonial Athletic Association next season. ODU resurrected football in 2009 – it dropped the sport in 1940 — and became an instant winner. It went 8-3 this season.

“Talk about a learning experience: starting a program from scratch is very unique,” Rondeau said.

All of the former Bison coaches stay in touch to some degree. Rondeau said Bradley gave him a football clinic over the summer. You won’t see Bradley and Babich going out to dinner this week mainly because of the rigors of game preparation in the NFL.

“You know how it is, it’s tough, there’s a lot going on,” Babich said. “It’s always fun to see him. Before a game, we’ll visit a little bit but when we’re playing, that’s the main focus.”

The focus in 2001 was to put together a team capable of reaching the Division II championship game. The Bison almost got there reaching the semifinals in 2000, but that wasn’t the case the following season. For all of the staff with the exception of Babich and Bradley, they were in their initial years of coaching.

“Ridiculously young,” Caruso said. “Bob takes over the job when he’s 37. In some ways, I think we all grew from being around such other good coaches. We were very, very young. Very young.”

It was Rondeau’s first full-time job. Enthusiasm was never a problem, he said. That probably served the staff well when Babich was hired by the St. Louis Rams following the 2002 season.

Vigen and Bradley were retained by new head coach Craig Bohl. Collectively, however, they all didn’t go backward. Offensive line coach Bruce Saum retired from athletics and entered private business. The rest of the staff remained in coaching and began scaling the football ladder.

That will be on display this afternoon at Soldier Field.

“I hope both defenses play well,” Vigen said.


Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the

Saturday Morning Sports Show, 9-11 a.m.

on WDAY-AM (970).

He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia