The Philadelphia portion of the NFL playoffs do not begin until next Saturday when we will finally get the answer to the burning question about whether the Eagles can win a playoff game with Nick Foles at quarterback. In the meantime, there is another Philadelphia story that will unfold during wild-card weekend.
It is already a terrific story.
One year after being bypassed for the head-coaching job with the Eagles, Philadelphia-area native Sean McDermott got his shot with the Buffalo Bills this season. He became the ninth branch to sprout from the Andy Reid tree of coaches after he spent six seasons as Ron Rivera’s defensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers.
The wait was definitely worth it last week. McDermott, 43, was already intensely proud of his Bills after they had closed out the regular season with a win down in Miami. The victory gave the Bills a 9-7 record, which marked just the third time in this century that they finished with more wins than losses. McDermott stood outside the visitors’ locker room at Hard Rock Stadium afterward and greeted each of his players with a handshake or a hug.
After #Bills game ended, head coach Sean McDermott waited outside locker room and shook hands or hugged every player & coach to walk in.
What a moment. Here's 90 seconds of it: pic.twitter.com/BMWGSFaYTP
— Jonah Javad (@JonahJavad) January 1, 2018
Things would get only better when the Bills slipped into the locker room and watched the conclusion of Cincinnati’s game at Baltimore. When Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton connected with Tyler Boyd for a 49-yard touchdown with 44 seconds left, the Bills had a ticket to the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season. They will play at Jacksonville on Sunday.
Some Bills fans celebrated the end of their team’s 17-year postseason drought with creativity and class, sending donations, many of them in $17 increments, to the Andy and Jordan Dalton foundation. As of Thursday, the donation total had reached $307,000, according to the Buffalo News.
“On a human level, this has been pretty cool,” McDermott said during a recent phone interview. “I’ve had a lot of help and support this season, especially from my general manager [Brandon Beane] and owner [Terrence Pegula].”
Lots of people with Eagles ties also played a part for McDermott’s first Bills team. His best offensive player, of course, is LeSean McCoy, and the veteran running back’s availability after suffering an ankle injury in the season finale could determine Buffalo’s chances against the Jaguars. McCoy is likely going to be a game-time decision. McDermott said he was thrilled with McCoy’s leadership this season.
“We were only around each other for two years in Philadelphia before I left,” McDermott said. “What I can tell you is that the talent is still there. What has changed is that he is a young man who has naturally matured, and seeing things like that is one of the joys of coaching.”
Former Eagles assistants Leslie Frazier (defensive coordinator), Juan Castillo (offensive line), and David Culley (quarterbacks) are part of McDermott’s coaching staff. Derek Boyko, after 24 years with the Eagles, moved back to his native roots in western New York this season to become the Bills’ vice president of communications.
McDermott said advice from the man who gave him his first job in the NFL in 1999 came in handy during a sometimes turbulent season as a rookie head coach.
“I would say one of the biggest things I learned from my 12 years with Andy Reid was that you’re going to have ups and downs over the course of the season,” McDermott said. “He would always tell me to stick with the plan and good things usually happen. I stayed true to that approach and things worked out, although we are still definitely a work in progress.”
McDermott, a wrestling and football star at North Penn and La Salle College High School, said he also sought advice from Eagles coach Doug Pederson before this season.
“He gave me an idea of what to expect in my first season,” McDermott said.
It appeared as if McDermott’s first season would mirror Pederson’s when the Bills lost three straight after a 5-2 start. But things started to turn again when the Bills beat Reid and the Chiefs in Kansas City in Week 12, then finished the year by winning three of their final four games.
Eight of the Bills’ nine wins came when the defense allowed 17 points or fewer. Jim Johnson, the late, great defensive coordinator during most of Reid’s tenure with the Eagles, taught McDermott that 17 was the magic number for a defense.
“That’s still our magic number,” McDermott said. “There are a lot of things that Jim taught me and Leslie that we still use here. I think about Jim quite often before different games.”
At the end of every game, even now as an NFL head coach, he calls his boyhood home in Lansdale to talk to his mother, Avis, and his father, Rich, a former football coach at West Chester and Ursinus. The toughest and most honest advice still comes from them.
“After every game, I call home to find out all the things I did wrong that day,” McDermott said. “They tell me in typical Philly style. Not a whole lot of praise.”
Sean McDermott would not want it any other way.
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