Face it, the bar was low. Low enough that you could trip over it, as was often the case with the 2015 and 2016 Buffalo Bills. If Sean McDermott could consistently make sure he had no fewer and no more than 11 players on the field at a time, he'd look like a coaching genius next to his predecessor, Rex Ryan.
It isn't truly as simple as that, of course, but that's where it started when Terry and Kim Pegula went about the process that led to McDermott's hiring last January.
They were looking for basic competence. They wanted someone who would bring a sense of organization and professionalism to their team. More commander, less comedian. They also sought someone who could make a positive difference in a role where decisions routinely impact the outcome of games.
Although McDermott is only three games into his rookie season as a head coach at any level of football, it's hardly too soon to say that he has delivered on all of those fronts. And then some.
At 2-1, and basking in the glow of an impressive win against the previously unbeaten Denver Broncos, the Bills have generated more positive buzz than they have in a long time. No one's putting them on the launching pad of a Super Bowl run, let alone a legitimate challenge to the 2-1 New England Patriots for AFC East supremacy.
But they're in a good place, probably better than many expected when most of what was done before the season suggested that this year mattered far less to the people in charge than the future. And it's how they've arrived here that makes McDermott's performance worthy of praise.
His press conferences are boring. His ultra-measured responses and constant use of coach-speak are maddening to those of us asking the questions. Ryan might not have excelled at much when it came to meshing the right scheme with his defensive personnel or pushing the correct buttons on game day or keeping track of all of those pesky details that are an essential part of the job description, but, man, was he ever entertaining.
When in doubt about a story angle, you could always count on Rex to deliver something, anything, that would make for interesting content. Perfect for what he's doing now for ESPN.
McDermott is the exact opposite. He saves his best work for when he's away from the cameras and microphones, when he's finding those competitive edges during videotape review, when he's giving hands-on instruction during practices, when he's addressing players in meetings, when he's on the sidelines during games.
Yes, McDermott rightfully took some grief for time management issues at the end of the loss against the Carolina Panthers, but if Tyrod Taylor makes a better throw and/or Zay Jones hangs onto the ball, that topic is barely discussed.
What's worth addressing is how McDermott is quickly showing this head coaching stuff isn't too big for him.
Start with how ready the Bills appeared to play their very best Sunday. This was no simple coaching chore, because there was nothing simple about the days (especially the final 48 hours) leading up to the game.
The Bills had to come up with defensive strategy to short-circuit an offense that had embarrassed the Dallas Cowboys the previous Sunday. Check. McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier created pressure and mixed up coverages that helped lead to two Trevor Siemian interceptions.
The Bills had to come up with an offensive plan to deal with arguably the game's most dominant pass-rusher, Von Miller, and two of its better cornerbacks, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. Check. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison listened to suggestions from Taylor and other players, and used a little bit of everything — including throwing out of run formations — to keep the Broncos' defenders guessing all day.
Then — and this was the trickiest part of all — the Bills had to balance between the emotional tidal wave generated by President Trump's incendiary remarks at a speech last Friday about NFL players who had been protesting during the national anthem, and the ability to focus on playing a game. That prompted the hourlong meeting Saturday night with McDermott, the Pegulas and players to air raw feelings and come up with a demonstration the next day that would answer Trump's callous words while also allowing the team to remain unified.
The situation called for strong leadership. McDermott gets major credit for providing it, especially because he realized that it didn't merely fall into a blanket category of a non-football issue — such as a player dealing with a death in the family or the birth or a child — threatening to take the team's collective eye off the target. He understood it was so much larger, even if he did his best to lend some comic relief in his comments about it to the media Monday, saying: "That's why I don't have any hair anymore."
This was a team thing, a family thing, and McDermott wanted to make every effort to keep it that way even if it did spill over into a controversy when Hall of Famer Jim Kelly publicly called out LeSean McCoy for stretching during the anthem and Jerry Hughes called out Kelly for calling out McCoy.
The bottom line is that the Bills were prepared. And preparation begins with coaching.
McDermott made one of the biggest decisions of the day when, instantly noticing that Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders had failed to complete the process of a catch in the second quarter, he moved his arms in a juggling motion while running along the sidelines and then threw his red challenge flag. Bingo! The replay showed that Sanders had, in fact, failed to control the ball to the ground and that wiped out a 44-yard gain. The Broncos wound up punting from deep in their territory, which helped set up a drive that began on Denver's side of the field for the first of four Stephen Hauschka field goals.
The Bills also showed how dialed-in they were to the Broncos by snuffing out a fake punt, thanks largely to the alertness of safety Colt Anderson, late in the third quarter to set up Hauschka's third field goal.
Smart. Composed. Creative. That was McDermott and his coaching staff Sunday.
Will it show up every week, and if it does, will it lead to a win? Who knows?
For now, though, it is a substantial improvement that could go a long way toward making this season more competitive than the previous two.