EAST MANATEE -- Bob Bowling will never forget Curt Bradley's initial interview for the Braden River High head football job.
"He was the only candidate who wore a suit and tie," recalls Bowling, the school's athletic director at the time. "That and his demeanor put him on the top of the list. I am a big believer in that you dress for the occasion. If you want a job bad enough, you will dress up and shine your shoes and look like you are there for business."
For Bradley, it was routine. It was the way he was taught to do things by his family and former Syracuse head football coach Doug Marrone, for whom he worked after college.
"My parents raised me to be professional and this job is very important to me," Bradley said. "Anytime you go to a job interview, you want to look your best and present yourself in the best manner."
Though Bowling retired in 2014, the two have remained close and talk as much as they can, sharing football ideas and thoughts about life in general.
"I have an awesome father, but he (Bowling) has been like a second father to me," Bradley said. "He was the first to put his arm around me after each one of my first nine losses and just told me to stay the course. He would be at the school at 3 or 4 in the morning and I would come in at 5, and we had some great talks that I really miss. He gave me a chance and I am forever thankful to him. He is an incredible human being."
What he wore was just part of the equation for Bowling, who had hired the football program's three previous coaches in what had turned into a coaching carousel.
Josh Hunter, the first head coach, was incarcerated after being convicted of DUI manslaughter in a tragic accident. Ed Volz took over and left for Sarasota High after two years. Don Purvis , the next hire, quit unexpectedly after two seasons.
"It seemed like every time I had to go down and meet with the football players, I had bad news," Bowling recalled. "I was never going down there to tell them something good. The players felt they weren't good enough and had terrible work habits. They moped around and there was no fire to them and no desire."
Bowling said more than 90 coaches applied for the job and eight were called in for interviews, which usually lasted about an hour. Things changed quickly with Bradley.
"With Curt, it was like five minutes (for the interview) and the game was over," Bowling said. "He showed a good knowledge of the game of football, but it was his charisma. He looked sharp and carried himself extremely well. He had the ability to tell you something that you believed was going to happen. I felt like if he could do that with a bunch of adults, he could do it with a bunch of young kids."
When Bradley showed up for his first practice in 2012, he said he realized the team wasn't going to be very good, but he never wavered from his long-range goals. That squad won its last game of the season to finish 1-9.
"There are a lot of kids on that team who fought until the end, and that is something that carried over," Bradley said. "To win that last game was special and made that a special group."
Young coach with chops
Bradley knew it would take time, but Bowling believed his young coach had the chops to do it and he wouldn't leave early as previous coaches had.
Bradley was hired in May 2012, a month short of his 27th birthday. He was previously the defensive coordinator at Leesburg High. He inherited a program that went 4-7 in back-to-back seasons under Purvis amid criticism the players did not use the weight room enough. To this day, Bowling said he has no idea why Purvis left.
"I am not surprised at all at what coach Bradley has done," Bowling said. "I told him after a few years, when you start winning, it's going to be the most gratifying thing you've done as a coach and would be something you built."
Bradley's loyalty is strong and plays well with the students, who just wanted someone to believe in. He won their trust by keeping his word and not leaving.
He has also exchanged letters with Hunter.
"He reached out to me first and congratulated me and I responded," Bradley said. "There is a lot of history here despite being a young school and I am kind of immersing myself in that. I explained to him that we understand the strides he made here when he ran the program and we were thinking of him."
Bradley and Braden River High School posted progressively better seasons since going 1-9. The Pirates went 6-4 his second season, 10-1 last year and are 13-0 heading into the Aquinas game.
After going through nearly 100 resumes, Bowling said he is not surprised school officials made the right choice.
"He has done a magnificent job. What he has accomplished has touched so many people," Bowling said. "To watch those kids mature, especially after what they have been through, with so many people making fun of them. Now you can hardly find a seat in the stands and everyone is loving them."