Often, when spoken during those weekly news conferences at One Bills Drive, it comes off as mind-numbingly robotic.
Surely, there must be a microchip of some kind guiding what comes out of Sean McDermott's mouth, right? What human being would utter the same word, over and over, in practically every answer to every question?
"We have to focus on ourselves and we have to focus on our process and our vision for what we’re trying to become as an organization and as a team; that’s just to continue to grow and continue to get better every week."
"We focus on what we do, how we can improve our vision, our process, how we’re building, and that’s really what we focus on. There’s only so many things you can control, so that’s what we focus on."
"We just have to focus on our process and continue to grow each and every day, learn from what we didn’t do well yesterday, and help use that to make us better in the future and tomorrow; continue to grow."
"The great part about this group is these guys understand the process. They know it’s week-to-week in the NFL, you’re seeing that around the league, the parity around the league. They know that they’ve learned a valuable lesson, we learned a valuable lesson early in our time together that you have to bring your game every week. It’s who can do that, who can stay focused on that process, who continues to grow, evolve and push forward, and really focus on that and nothing but that."
Win. Lose. The circumstances don't matter. What matters is that the Bills are, indeed, following the "process." McDermott's process.
Media and fans have come to think of it as a bit of a running joke. One of McDermott's funnier lines this season was actually feeling the need to describe himself as a "process-oriented guy."
Who's laughing now?
It's hardly a reach to identify the process, in the various ways McDermott applies it with his team on a daily basis, as the very foundation to the Bills' first playoff season since 1999.
The players certainly don't see it as being funny or the least bit trivial. To them, it's a big part of the road map they've followed from those first offseason workouts … through the ups and downs, twists and turns of a 9-7 finish that helped produce Sunday's wild-card game against the Jacksonville Jaguars … to the hope of a future filled with more success.
"He says it, it's just second nature," defensive end Ryan Davis said. "We don't blink or go, 'Alright, that's enough process.' Nah. We love it so far."
"We don't joke with the process," linebacker Preston Brown said. "That's something that's really serious. Sometimes people say, 'Playoff caliber' (a slogan McDermott had plastered throughout the facility and on shirts), here and there. When they do a good rep or they do something good, they say, 'That's playoff caliber' with a little bit of a smile. But you can't mess with the process."
Stephen Hauschka spent six seasons with a coach widely viewed as a master motivator and innovator in sports psychology when he kicked for Pete Carroll in Seattle.
Hauschka puts McDermott's "process" right up there with anything he ever heard from Carroll.
"I think it's brilliant," Hauschka said. "This is what sports psychology's all about."
What's the process all about?
Bills players have their own definitions, although most incorporate elements of what McDermott constantly shares with them in meetings and with the outside world.
"The way we talk about process around here is just continuing to get better each day," center Eric Wood said. "And the results will take care of themselves if we just continue to get better. And I think we've done a good job of that this year. Although the wins and losses may not have proven a straight-line, upward trajectory, I think we've gotten better and better as a team and we've been growing this year."
A large part of why the "process" has worked is because veterans such as Wood and guard Richie Incognito were quick to buy into it, setting an example for younger teammates.
"I had immediate buy-in," Incognito said.
Even when the Bills went through their three-game losing streak, during which they allowed 135 points (a franchise record for that span) and McDermott's decision to start rookie Nathan Peterman at quarterback over Tyrod Taylor blew up in his face, players insisted they still were "process" believers.
"I think either you were in or you were out, and I think most of the guys in here were in," defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "I know the leadership on this team was in and directed our guys that way and they stayed the course. There's ups and downs through every season, and, obviously, that was a down point. But these guys worked their way through it and they didn't throw in the towel, they didn't quit and that's why we are where we are."
"I think the biggest thing (to maintaining belief) was that we started fast," said linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. "We were 5-2, so we knew it worked even though you have some adversity that you're going to go through, which (McDermott) always talks about as well. When we watched the film, it wasn't about the process. It was about guys getting off blocks. It was doing your basic assignments, your job, so it was more guys taking responsibility for themselves, like, 'I'm not playing good enough. This play got out because I wasn't in my gap.' It was more self-accountability than blaming the process."
It's more than a word. It's more than a concept that relates to football or sports.
For the Bills, its importance is right up there with air, water and other essentials.
There are players who will tell you they rely on it almost as heavily as anything in their playbooks. They see it as a tool, in the same sense that a coaching point made in a meeting or practice can help put them in the proper position to make a play during a game.
"Our sport's hard, so when we go out there, things can start going different ways and not going the way you exactly planned for," defensive end Eddie Yarbrough said. "But for us, it's kind of like a safety blanket, a safety net, saying like, 'Hey, no matter what happens, we can always revert back to trusting that process and trusting what we've done.' And that helped us and got us through.
"For us, process means not only what's ahead, but also what we've done. That's part of the process – looking back, looking at what you've done, the work you've put in, all the sweat equity you've put in. It encompasses both what we've done and also where we're going."
A sampling of other player definitions of the Bills' "process:"
Guard Vlad Ducasse: "Life is a process, so that's how we've got to see it coming to work. The way we eat, the way we train, our film study, all that is just part of the process. And we all get together and pretty much just do the right thing and we'll get to where we want to go. Every team has a (primary) message and I've been with teams (that) have some similar to this. But here, they're not really hiding behind anything, they're not trying to dress it (up) with anything. They're just coming out and saying, 'Trust the process.' Just keeping it simple. That's what it takes, that's what we're doing."
Wide receiver Zay Jones: "We come into a meeting room setting, and he can pull a clip from the Wofford basketball team playing against UNC. Or he can go out and pull the clip from a woman running track who is dying as she's crossing the finish line. He'll pull any example from anywhere in order to get his message across. And sometimes it's not even about the X's and O's of football. It's about having a vision, seeing something, expecting the win, going out with a great attitude in practice. That's all a part of his process and he's really implementing that. And I think everyone's really receiving that well in the locker room."
Davis: "I believe the foundation he's setting right now is going to have long-term success, not only for himself as a head coach, but for this organization. And I think the path that we're on right now, it shows. You hear a lot about 'The Playoff Drought' and all that kind of stuff. We embrace it as a city and everything as a team. But at the same time, this is a new group of guys who believe we are playoff caliber. We accept what's to come during this process and, hopefully, start a string of successful seasons."
Incognito: "To me, it's focusing on what you can control. Not worrying about the outcome, worrying about the work that we're going to put in and what's ahead of us. Day-by-day approach."
Hauschka: "Just how to be the best you and how to be the best team you can be. In order to do that, you need to continually grow and learn and develop. You can't be the best version of yourself if you're not growing and learning. It's just sort of developing the whole program around learning from our mistakes, which are going to happen, and then growing and trying to be our best selves every single week and understanding that we're a different team this week than we were at the beginning of the season from everything we've been through. Not only is that how this team works, it's how life works, really."
Brown: "(McDermott) put out his plan when he first got here in April and everybody's trying to abide by that plan. I think some coaches, they always talk about stuff the first couple of weeks and then it just fades away. You never hear about it again. But every single day, he's doing the same thing – run to the ball, pick up all the dropped passes, all of the fumbles, punch the ball out. Everything that you talk about that usually drifts away throughout the season, but not with these guys. They're taking (that approach) every single day. So you've just got to trust the process each and every day, coming in for meetings. Not just to go in and get into a routine. Don't take a day for granted, because you know this stuff can go fast. They've got guys rotating in and out all the time around the league, so just don't take it for granted. And trust the process."