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Sean McDermott Files: And if you don't know, now you know

Not all of the interviews and research about Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott made it into my feature about him.

Here are my favorite surplus items from "the process."

Bills crew, assemble

Through a long interview in June at the end of Bills minicamp, McDermott seemed to get most animated when I asked him what it was like, after years of imagining about it, what it was like to hire his first coaching staff.

"Preparing for it over the years, I had a long list," McDermott said. "Every year I would add or take off based off experiences and information or systems. 'I want a piece of this system on my staff,' you know?

"The research I did was very extensive because I'm only as strong as my staff. It's not what I know. It's what my staff and my players know.

"That was a process because what feels good before you have a job -- and this goes on in league circles -- is 'Hey, man, if I ever get a job I'm going to hire you.' That feels good to say that. There are a lot of people that overpromise and underdeliver on those, or they hire friends and things don't work out. I didn't want to go that route."

Sean's father, Rich McDermott, pointed out of the NFL's six new coaches this year, the Bills have the most experienced staff. The Bills have a former head coach in defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and five former NFL coordinators.

Vance Joseph's staff with the Denver Broncos also features one former head coach and five former NFL coordinators, but the other four teams are sparse. By my count, Kyle Shanahan's staff has only one former coordinator, special-teams assistant Stan Kwan.

The Bills are the lone staff out of the six with a former coordinator leading offense, defense and special teams.

"I wanted to find balance in all three areas," Sean McDermott said. "It was important to get guys that had experience because I've learned there's no substitute for that, especially in areas I don't have expertise in, offense and special teams.

"And I wanted a quality of energy with the experience. Sometimes you have experience, but their energy levels are going down; they're not motivated."

McDermott expressed a desire to cultivate young assistants to replace those who might leave for other jobs. He was under pressure as Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator, while five of his defensive assistants were in their first year in that job. Just one of them, quality-control assistant Mike Caldwell, stuck in the NFL.

"Within that creative pipeline I wanted young guys that we could train and build, so -- because when you win, you lose people off your staff -- we could promote from within and get a return on your investment," McDermott said.

Banding together

McDermott's coaching idol, Jon Gruden, gave his thoughts on what it's like to amass your first coaching crew. Gruden coached the Oakland Raiders and then with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers became the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl.

"It's not as easy as people think," Gruden said. "When I got hired by the Oakland Raiders, I couldn't hire any of the guys I'd been working with, really, except [offensive-line coach] Bill Callahan. Everybody was under contract that I wanted. So you have to re-teach your concepts to them first before they can teach it to your players.

"Then when I got traded to Tampa Bay, I couldn't take any of my coaches with me at all from Oakland. So I had to hire a whole new coaching staff, guys I hadn't really worked with, some guys I hadn't met much at all.

"So that's going to be a challenge. It's not like McDermott brought a bunch of coaches with him from Carolina. He's going to have to train his coaches first and, obviously, then keep a close eye on what's happening on the other side of the ball. That's the biggest challenge in the first year."

Gruden retired after the 2008 season with a 100-85 record, including playoffs. He's the analyst for ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

"It's a tough process," Gruden said. "You'll have more meetings in your first year than you'll have in your second or third year.

"If you don't get the boat in the water and get headed in the right direction, you're not going to be out to sea very long."

X's and O'ates

Rich McDermott was teammates at Hargrave Military Academy with future Raiders defensive tackle Art Thoms at North Penn High with John Oates of Hall and Oates.

When Rich was a senior, Oates was a sophomore.


I asked his brother, Tim McDermott, what it takes to satisfy Sean. Tim cited the Gatorade commercial that underscores how defeat fuels greatness.

"Do you give it your all?" Tim McDermott said. "That's the biggest thing. The way we were brought up, giving less than your full heart just wasn't what we were taught. Maybe we weren't gifted enough to give less than 110 percent. So when we did anything in school or sports, you were to fully commit.

"Sean appreciates people who are willing to do that and compete and put themselves out there. But I also think he appreciates the ones who experience failure but pick themselves up and do it all over again.

"Sean has a real appreciation of guys who will fight the fight and get off the mat and just keep going, guys who find that extra ounce of heart. That's who he is, so he naturally gravitates to people like that."

Eclectic ecclesiastics

McDermott is a Christian who has been exposed to a variety of faiths.

People might assume he's Catholic given his Irish ancestry and the fact he graduated from LaSalle College High, a Catholic school in suburban Philadelphia. McDermott was named to Philadelphia Daily News reporter's Ted Silary's 30-year All-Catholic League team.

But McDermott also attended a Mennonite middle school for two years, starting when teachers from his local public school went on strike.

"It was a good experience," McDermott said. "I went to a couple different religion-based schools. I was maturing as a young man."

For the record, McDermott is Presbyterian.

Sees all, hears all

McDermott monitors what is being written and said about his organization and players.

"I look at that as part of our mental toughness approach," McDermott said. "With all due respect to what you do, that's part of guiding a team.

"I'm responsible for the morale of the troops, and that includes understanding what they're hearing and what they're seeing about themselves. You no longer can just train the body. You have to train the mind as well."

Rebuilding advice

Dick Vermeil, the retired Eagles, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs coach, spoke about what it's like for a coach to rebuild an organization and try to mold a fresh culture.

"Rebuilding a football team is like remodeling your home and living in it at the same time," Vermeil said. "It's very uncomfortable. It doesn't look very good. You keep making little improvements, but it becomes a damn good-looking home.

"Football teams never look good when you start rebuilding, and sometimes you make them worse before you make them better.

"I hope Sean doesn't have to do that, but sometimes you do."

Vermeil's rookie season as Eagles coach finished 4-10. They went to the Super Bowl three years later.

He went 9-23 in his first two seasons with the Rams. Then he guided the 1999 Rams to their lone championship. The Chiefs went 14-18 his first two seasons then 13-3 in his third.

"Most people cannot recognize what's going on in rebuilding a team until it's built," Vermeil said. "Sometimes it's ownership, management, media and fans. They just can't see it. They don't understand it.

"The guy that hires and fires the head coach needs to understand it -- or at least go along with it -- and back him."

'One brick at a time'

When the Eagles fired McDermott and he landed with the Carolina Panthers, new Bills GM Brandon Beane was in the Panthers' front office.

I asked Beane what McDermott was like when he arrived.

"I think when you lose your job it's human nature to have your confidence shaken," Beane replied. "But I just noticed a guy who came in, didn't say much, went to work without bravado and laid one brick at a time.

"I looked at him as a guy who listened before he spoke. He wasn't talking, like, 'Hey, I worked for Jim Johnson, and I have the answers.' He was a guy who was trying to make himself better."

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