Sean McDermott sounded banal and bland as always, reciting the same lines we’ve come to expect every time he steps behind the podium.
It’s a process.
Trust the process.
Focus on the process.
Originality certainly is not his calling card. Witty banter isn’t really his forte.
But while his predictability oftentimes bores me, there was something different about the way he concluded his press conference Monday. There was a hint of an edge, an attitude, an assertiveness that accentuated his message. And it spoke volumes.
"We’re not where we need to be," said the Bills head coach, "and anyone who thinks we are, in this building at least, is only fooling themselves.”
The culture change he’s spearheading isn’t limited to the scope of his locker room. This is a complete organizational overhaul, one that requires everyone inside the facility to adopt a new outlook and a new standard.
For all of his inexperience as an NFL head coach, McDermott is actually one of a few people internally who's been here before. As a former defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers and a member of Andy Reid’s staff in Philadelphia, McDermott has seen firsthand what it takes to create a winning culture. But he also knows how fleeting winning records and playoff runs can be.
The toughest challenge for first-year head coaches isn’t simply assembling the perfect staff or devising the right schemes during gameday preparation. No, McDermott’s responsibilities go well beyond basic X’s and O’s.
Knowing how to win is one thing. But knowing how to handle winning is something entirely different.
LeSean McCoy’s postgame remarks to reporters this past Sunday were both entertaining and spot on. Most football pundits and TV analysts (save for ex-Bills head coach Rex Ryan) had assumed the Bills would be blown away by Atlanta’s dizzying offense and forced to settle for a respectable, but not great, 2-2 record. Instead, it was the Bills who shocked the football world, upsetting the previously unbeaten Falcons in their new, palatial digs.
However, McCoy’s comments — “You all picked us to lose! Come talk to the winners!” the running back yelled in the visitors locker room after their 23-17 victory — showed that he and his teammates are still seeking respect from the outside world. But a 3-1 record does not a season make, and being in first place in the AFC East standings (ahead of the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots) isn’t enough. Not even close.
“I believe it’s a big challenge for our building to keep things in perspective,” McDermott said when asked about his locker room being comprised mostly of players who haven’t won consistently in the NFL. “If we’re going to get addicted to anything, let’s get addicted to the process of what leads to winning.”
Ah, there it is again: “The Process.”
Those two words are never far from his lips.
But here’s why that’s a good thing for this franchise and this fan base: The Bills are off to their best start since 2011 and in only four weeks have turned the “tank” chatter into legitimate talk of a potential playoff run. Impressive, yes. But few organizations know disappointment quite like the Bills.
Now, there’s no need for me to pick at the scabs of Super Bowls past, but here’s the truth: collapses and failed expectations have a way of collecting dust at One Bills Drive. McDermott knows that. And so do you.
So, he has every reason to stick to his bland script. In fact, he should remain as dull and dry as humanly possible behind the podium because this team needs to understand that it hasn’t done anything yet.
The Bills are underdogs for a reason.
But that doesn't mean they don't have the potential to become something special in 2017.
Still, in order to pull off the improbable they must stay true to what got them here: trusting the process.
“We have to stay hungry, we have to stay humble, and that’s what I’m looking for,” McDermott said before turning his focus completely toward his next opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals. “I’m looking for the best week of practice from our football team.”
He wants his players to embrace that gritty, underdog mentality and to meet every challenge head on. But the air of confidence matters little without “consistency of approach, consistency of performance.”
Sound coaching, committed players and a new culture have made all the difference for the Bills. And the proof lies in their record — and the words of McDermott’s players, too.
“We just take it week-by-week, game-by-game,” rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White said of their surprising 3-1 start. “…We’re not going to get complacent or anything like that, we’ll just trust in the process and continue to take it week-by-week.”
McDermott’s plan is taking shape. And “the process” is ongoing.