ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The search is over. 15 days after firing Rex Ryan short of two season at the helm, the Buffalo Bills named Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott their new head coach.
“We believe we have hired a smart, determined and hard-working head coach who has been training for many years to achieve this goal,” Bills owner Terry Pegula said in an official press release. “Sean is an ambitious leader who has the desire to lead this organization to compete for and ultimately win a Super Bowl. We look forward to working with Sean for many years to come.”
Jason La Canfora of cbssports.com was the first to report a deal had been finalized between the two parties, around 3:30 pm on Wednesday afternoon.
Sean McDermott has agreed to become the next head coach of the Buffalo Bills
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) January 11, 2017
The team confirmed that report about an hour later.
IT’S OFFICIAL. We’ve agreed with Sean McDermott to become head coach of the Buffalo Bills!
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) January 11, 2017
McDermott, 42, was the first candidate Buffalo interviewed back on Jan. 4, and despite initial reports claiming that the job was interim head coach Anthony Lynn’s to lose, it was McDermott who earned a second interview on Wednesday, and was ultimately offered the job. The Bills also conducted interviews with Lynn, Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard.
“I am very appreciative of the opportunity to become the Buffalo Bills new head coach and join the rich tradition of Bills football,” McDermott remarked in the release. “I am looking forward to connecting with our players, Bills staff and the passionate fan base. I want to thank Terry and Kim and I look forward to working with Doug and the entire football department.”
McDermott comes to Buffalo after spending the last six seasons as the Panthers defensive coordinator, where his unit has finished in the top 10 in four of the last five seasons. In 2015 Carolina’s defense also led the league in turnovers during a season that culminated in a run to the Super Bowl.
A former walk on at William and Mary, McDermott never played in the NFL, but after serving as a graduate assistant at his alma mater in 1998 was offered a job with the Philadelphia Eagles as a scouting coordinator on Andy Reid’s staff. Over the next 11 seasons he made his way through various defensive coaching roles, taking over as defensive coordinator in 2009 when long-time DC Jim Johnson resigned due to an ongoing battle with melanoma that eventually took his life. Following the 2011 season McDermott was fired, only to be hired as the Panthers defensive coordinator days later.
Like Johnson, McDermott deploys a 4-3 defensive scheme. He also, unlike his predecessor, is known for holding his players accountable and brings a no nonsense mentality to coaching – something Bills wideout Sammy Watkins requested following Ryan’s dismissal.
Now, with McDermott’s hiring official, filling out the rest of the coaching staff comes next. It’s already been reported that he’ll bring Panthers linebacker coach Al Holcomb with him to Western New York to serve as the Bills defensive coordinator. Former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy had been linked to McDermott as a potential offensive coordinator candidate, but he’s also drawing interest from the Denver Broncos, who hired Vance Joseph as their head coach earlier today.
It remains to be seen whether or not McDermott will have control over the 53-man roster or if that responsibility will remain with general manager Doug Whaley.
The Bills will introduce McDermott as their 20th head coach on Friday. The time for the presser has yet to be determined.
It isn’t anywhere near as flashy as the Rex Ryan hire back in 2015, but that’s a good thing. After Ryan’s dismissal ahead of Week 17 numerous players talked about accountability being an issue. With McDermott that shouldn’t be the case.
From an on the field standpoint there isn’t much to not like about McDermott either. Sure, after making a run to the Super Bowl the Panthers defense took steps backwards this past season finishing 21st overall in terms of total yards. A lot of that however, had to do with the loss of CB Josh Norman, who’s price tag last offseason got too high for Carolina’s liking so they let him walk in free agency. The fact that McDermott found a way in today’s NFL – with so much turnover on a yearly basis – to keep his defense in the top 10 four out of five years is impressive.
This also means a return to the 4-3 defense in Buffalo, which is the same scheme that produced back-to-back season’s of total dominance during the 2013 and 2014 campaigns. Fortunately, much of the personnel from those year’s is still intact and even last year’s first-round pick Shaq Lawson admitted he’s more comfortable in that type of system. McDermott’s defense consists of a lot of cover two zone coverages, which requires safeties and linebackers that can cover well. With Aaron Williams contemplating retirement there is at least one glaring hole on the back end that will need filled. Not to mention the pending free agency of CB Stephon Gilmore, who could thrive in this scheme as a shut down corner, much like Norman did in Carolina.
McDermott’s 4-3 also thrives with linebackers that are instinctive and have great range like Luke Kuechly. While Preston Brown certainly fits better in a 4-3, he isn’t quite as athletic as Kuechly and we have yet to see what rookie Reggie Ragland can do. Perhaps bringing back Zach Brown is an option, although he struggled at taking on blocks at times in 2016 and was often taken completely out of plays. We’ll see how McDermott handles uses current personnel and if he’s able to add to it this offseason.
This hire seemed to be made with the goal of fixing the defense, so from that perspective it’s a great fit. Now it comes down to what McDermott is able to do with the offense. That will hinge on who becomes offensive coordinator. Mike McCoy would be a huge get for the Bills if they can lure him away from Vance Joseph and the Broncos. Keep in mind the OC decision could also impact the future of Tyrod Taylor with the Bills. There’s still a lot to get done, but with the biggest decision finalized now these other dominos can begin to fall.
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