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McDermott, Quinn football paths cross for first time as head coaches

During the summer, as Sean McDermott finally got around to unpacking boxes from his family's move from North Carolina to Western New York, the Buffalo Bills' first-year coach opened a box containing a piece of his football past.

It was a game program from a 1995 encounter between McDermott's alma mater, William & Mary, and Virginia Military Institute. On the cover was a photo of Dan Quinn and Mike Tomlin, VMI assistant coaches who would go on to much bigger and better things as NFL head coaches: Quinn with the Atlanta Falcons and Tomlin with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"It was pretty neat to see and to remember those days," McDermott said with a smile Wednesday.

Those memories include 1994, when McDermott, as a sophomore safety for William & Mary, got to know Quinn, who was a graduate assistant defensive line coach at the school.

"Dan was one of those coaches that just had it," McDermott said. "He had a great way with players. Having that great way with players, he still had a tough-minded approach to the game, which being a defensive player and then defensive coach, and head coach now, I really appreciated.

"He was close enough with the players, but not too close in terms of the relationships he was able to form. He had something, even then, when I was in college. And it’s been fun to watch his career."

Sunday, for the first time, McDermott and Quinn will square off as head coaches when the Bills face the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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They've gone against each other multiple times during McDermott's previous stint as defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, an NFC South rival of the Falcons.

"He has been a tremendous help me to, he really has," McDermott said. "Like a number of other coaches around the league and coaches in other sports as well, he has been open using his first couple of years to helping me in my first year, whether it has been just dealing with what happens in your first year, what to expect ... going as far as they went last year with the Super Bowl run that they were on, and the experiences that came from that and sharing some of those valuable lessons he learned along the way.

"I know his wife has worked with my wife in sharing some of those things that happened on the other end of things, with respect to the wives building community, building family. That has been very valuable and much appreciated on my part."

Quinn, who became head coach of the Falcons in 2015 after two seasons as defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks, recalled being highly impressed with the intensity of McDermott's workouts.

"Here's this safety ripping out like 25 pull-ups post-practice," Quinn said. "And I'm thinking to myself, 'Damn, this dude's a dog.' I just remember his serious intent. ... I've always admired Sean, both of us kind of coming up through the coaching ranks, on the defensive side and both his defenses at Philly and at Carolina, just the toughness, the attitude and the swagger, I totally connected to that.

"For years, I've just kept up with him and every time I got a chance to watch them play and study how they did (things) that I wanted to do, and now to get to see him at the league meetings and talk to him and if there's ever a time, this is some things I screwed up my first year, I wanted him to know, 'I'm just a phone call away if you ever have questions or comments about anything.'

"We've kept up some and just a guy that I really respect quite a bit."

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