Jerry Smith was reveling in Jacksonville's win over Pittsburgh and Dave Caldwell and Chris Polian's success Sunday afternoon when he heard the news about another former player from St. Francis High. Brian Daboll had just been named offensive coordinator in Buffalo. Suddenly, it all made sense.
Last week, after exchanging text messages with Daboll after he won the national championship with Alabama, Smith caught up with his former running back and defensive back by telephone. They were in the middle of a conversation when Daboll abruptly ended their conversation to take an important call.
"He said he would call back," Smith said Sunday. "He said something else came up. I assume it was this."
Sunday was a day to remember for St. Francis, the small private school in Athol Springs that has produced more NFL executives and coaches than any high school in America. Smith has coached there for 37 years and watched several good football players become great football minds at the highest level.
Frannies was 16-1-1 and won back-to-back Monsignor Martin Association titles while the Bills were going to four straight Super Bowls. GM Bill Polian took his sons and teammates who seemed wired for football under his guidance, sprouting branches from his tree that eventually stretched into organizations across the NFL.
Caldwell joined the Jaguars as general manager in 2013 and made Chris Polian his director of player personnel. Both also attended John Carroll University along with Tom Telesco and Brian Polian. Telesco was named general manager of the Chargers one day after Caldwell was hired by the Jags. Brian Polian became a head coach at Nevada and is now coaching special teams at Notre Dame.
Daboll graduated with Brian Polian and took a different career path. He attended the University of Rochester before getting involved in coaching. He worked under Bill Belichick for 11 seasons over two stints and helped the Patriots win five Super Bowls. He left last year to join Nick Saban's staff and take another spin as offensive coordinator.
"It's fantastic for him," Smith said. "All the guys on their team were special. They all had a special drive. They were intense, all of them. Brian was an intense player and knew his stuff. I'm ecstatic for Brian. That's pretty cool."
Daboll shouldn't have any problem finding New Era Field. For years, while bouncing around various football outposts, he kept a home in Orchard Park that's only a few minutes from the stadium. He also has a firm handle on the AFC, which should accelerate his transition back into the NFL.
We'll see how things work out in Buffalo, but at least the guy has been around winning programs and worked alongside two of the best coaches in the history of college and professional football. In fact, he immediately became the winningest assistant coach in the history of the Bills.
Certainly, it counts for something.
Bills coach Sean McDermott would have been hard pressed to find another assistant with more experience and success. Daboll's most recent challenge was working with young quarterbacks at Alabama. He prepared true freshman Tua Tagovailoa to come off the bench in the second half and rally 'Bama before throwing a touchdown bomb in overtime to beat Georgia.
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It would have been easy for McDermott to take the easy route and hire Mike McCoy, his first choice after he was named Bills head coach last year. You knew the names out there: Rob Chudzinski, Darrell Bevell, Ben McAdoo, Mike Shula, Alex Van Pelt. Past relationships didn't appear to come into play in this decision.
McDermott and Daboll never coached together. Their only obvious connection comes from William & Mary in 1997, when Daboll was a 22-year-old first-year coach working on a restricted salary and McDermott was a senior and a year older. They may have formed a relationship, but it wasn't as if they were football blood brothers.
The Bills were looking for an offensive coordinator who had worked in the NFL but also had experience with quarterbacks. Daboll, who also spent two years as quarterbacks coach with the Jets under Eric Mangini, checked all the boxes. You can safely assume Daboll learned a few things while working with Tom Brady and Brett Favre, which should help him groom Nathan Peterman with a rookie likely on the way.
In his four seasons as offensive coordinator, the Browns, Dolphins and Chiefs were rated in the bottom third in the NFL in total yards, passing yards and points. He wasn't exactly working with Hall of Fame passers like Brady and Favre, either.
His quarterbacks over two seasons with the Browns included Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson, Colt McCoy, an aging Jake Delhomme and young Seneca Wallace. Matt Moore was his starter in Miami. Matt Cassel and Quinn started in Kansas City, which explains why Jamaal Charles rushed for more than 1,500 yards.
The Bills need more from their offense, starting with quarterback. Tyrod Taylor likely has played his last game for the Bills. Buffalo is desperate for more talent at wide receiver, which would help the passing game. Daboll inherited a solid offensive line and a dynamic player in running back LeSean McCoy but not much else.
Daboll's return home makes for a nice story, but it's a major undertaking. Ultimately, it comes back to offensive production and play calling. The offensive coordinator is usually the least favorite person in town, especially in Buffalo. The region is loaded with offensive geniuses who believe they could do a better job while screaming at the television from their bar stools.
Just ask them.
The Bills don't need someone who installs a complex attack in an effort to show off his offensive acumen and over-coaches his player. An intelligent, competent coordinator who complements a strong defense would suffice, someone who maximizes potential in his players and is wise enough to run the ball on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the first playoff game in 17 years.
Daboll, who was born in Canada and raised in West Seneca, is well aware of the challenge ahead in his adopted hometown. He knows the demands that come with a passionate fan base that's starving for success. He's bound to hear from family members and friends when he starts calling the plays next season. He might even hear the raspy voice of his high school coach, who happens to be a devout Bills fan.
"He has coached quarterbacks," Smith said. "And that's the big question with our team right now: Who is going to be the quarterback? We have a great running back. I think it's a good fit. I'm excited for him, I think it's great and I'm happy for him. I'll have to send him a text and congratulate him, too."