INDIANAPOLIS — In two years as head coach of the Buffalo Bills, Sean McDermott has made eight changes to his original staff of primary assistant coaches.
During this offseason, alone, McDermott replaced offensive line coach Juan Castillo with Bobby Johnson, quarterbacks coach David Culley with Ken Dorsey, wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie with former offensive assistant Chad Hall, and special teams coordinator Danny Crossman with Heath Farwell.
Hall is the Bills’ third receivers coach since 2017, McDermott’s first year with the team.
“Number one, those changes are never easy,” McDermott said Wednesday, while here for the NFL scouting combine. “I take those seriously and put a lot of thought into those changes for a lot of reasons. Number two, at the end of the day, you can't get all the guys you're trying to get in Year One, for a variety of reasons.
“And then things happen that effect the result on the field, so you say, ‘I’m always going to look at the vision that, collectively, (team owners) Terry and Kim (Pegula), (General Manager) Brandon (Beane) and myself have for this organization. And if I don't feel like, with the people that we have on board, that we can achieve that goal, then I've got to do something about it or we're all just wasting our time.’
“It’s no different than when you’re trying to build a team. We’re trying to build a team and it takes time. So change is necessary.”
After his first year as the Bills’ head coach, McDermott replaced offensive coordinator Rick Dennison with Brian Daboll, defensive backs coach Gill Byrd with John Butler, and receivers coach Phil McGeoghan with Robiskie. Additionally, defensive line coach Mike Waufle retired and Bill Teerlinck took his place.
More name tags will be in order once McDermott gathers his club for its third round of offseason workouts. “As hard as it is, we felt like we hired some really good candidates this offseason,” he said.
Dorsey is one of the higher-profile hires because he’ll play a key role in the development of second-year quarterback Josh Allen. McDermott and Dorsey worked together when McDermott was defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers and Dorsey worked for the team as a pro scout and then a quarterbacks coach.
Besides having played quarterback at the University of Miami and in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns, Dorsey also did plenty to help the Panthers’ Cam Newton become an NFL MVP and Super Bowl quarterback. That Newton and Allen are both larger athletes with considerable mobility seems to make Dorsey a particularly good fit with the Bills.
“(Allen is) another big quarterback that's mobile, that he got early on in Cam’s career, similar to Josh in this way,” McDermott said. “No two cases are exactly the same, but there's a lot of similarities in the style of play. Really, to me, good coaches are able to either be fundamental guys or scheme guys, in this case, and then you add a third, as being a guy that can evaluate talent. Not a lot of coaches can do that, and his background in scouting helps in that regard.
“And this, I think, puts just another smart coach on staff, at a key position, that's already been in the room at a high level with Cam Newton.”
The foundation of McDermott’s belief that Hall was ready to be promoted to receivers coach comes from the same place as what led him to make him an offensive assistant: Hall’s days as a receiver for the Eagles when McDermott was on the team’s coaching staff.
“Chad's played the position, played it at a high level and probably overachieved, really,” McDermott said. “He'll get mad at me for saying this, but he played for a number of years when no one ever probably thought he would play for that long. So being around Chad as a player, I was able to watch him do what he did and the time that he spent preparing. And now, really two years in, I've had a chance to watch Chad in a different way as a coach now. He's learned from a lot of people around him. He has a growth mindset where he studies the game, not only in house, but he goes and works at it.
“I believe in growing our own. That's where you get the return on your investment more than any place. Are we giving up something in terms of experience? Yes, but to me the vision would be in this case along with the other young coaches we have on staff is to develop them to the point like I felt like I was developed by Andy Reid, Jim Johnson and then, again, my Ron Rivera to become one of the best ones in the league.”
Another notable offseason addition to the Bills is Dennis Lock, who they hired as director of research and football strategy. Since 2015, Lock had been director of analytics for the Miami Dolphins.
McDermott said all of Lock’s specific duties have yet to be determined, but the coach has a basic idea of how the contributions he expects him to make.
“We’ve always been believers in the analytics end of things,” McDermott said. “What Dennis really will do is just offer us another set of eyes in that regard. We'll see what he'll do as we get closer to the season, just like any other coach, in terms of what his role will be in game days. But the days and months leading up to games, to be able to provide us another set of eyes on the numbers is important for us.
“On Mondays, after I'm done with” media obligations, “it's like 4 o'clock or so I've got from 4 o'clock to whenever I go home to get a decent feel for the opponent. Well, how do we take all this information, really get it into some buckets, so I can say, ‘Hey, I want to know this about the opponent and this before I leave at night.’ So when I come in early Tuesday morning, I can help put the finishing touches on the game plan or making sure that we're exposing the opponent these ways match-up-wise, whatever. It’s just about, really, how can I enhance the learning curve and get myself up to speed and know an opponent as quickly as possible. It's a race of time every week, if you have a seven-day week, Monday to Sunday; if you have a four-day week, Monday to Thursday. I love working on a two-week playoff bye. It's easy, you can relax, you can watch more film.
“When you have guys that you can trust, that will take information, find kind of the opportunities and then direct my eyes to those opportunities. It gets you to the answer quicker, bottom line.”