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Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott is the real deal

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A Look Back at Sean McDermott’s First Year

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

At the conclusion of his weekly television show on October 10th, 1994, Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy stepped in front of a small crowd assembled in the Empire Sports Network studios and led the audience in singing a catchy piece of ear candy he had just written earlier that day. The new song was composed to pay up on a bet he had made with his team prior to their game with the Miami Dolphins. Beat the Dolphins this week, promised Levy, and I’ll write you a Bills fight song that I’ll sing in front of the entire locker room.

Watching the video of Levy’s performance 23 years later confirms two uncomfortable and undeniable truths:

  1. 1994 was a banner year for ugly eyeglasses and bad haircuts.
  2. For all of his professional accomplishments, intelligence and wit, Marv Levy could also be a little unhinged at times.

Longtime Bills fans tend to look back on Marv’s homemade anthem as a funny little footnote in the saga of the Super Bowl years, but imagine what the response might have been if social media existed back in 1994.

Levy would have been the scarecrow surrounded by a troop of flying monkeys: monkey number 1 would create a parody Twitter account called “Singing Marv” that picked and poked at Levy’s every word; monkey number 2 would post a video on Facebook that superimposed Levy singing his fight song on the deck of the Titantic; monkey number 3 would author a series of hard-hitting columns in the local newspaper that culminated in a call for Levy’s termination; monkey number 4 would post the Twitter account, the Titantic video, and excerpts of the hard-hitting columns up on Deadspin. Collectively, the flying monkeys would scatter bits and pieces of Marv all over Lot 4 at One Bills Drive until he didn’t have a job anymore.

With all the glowing coverage of Sean McDermott in the week leading up to the Bills’ first playoff appearance in seventeen years, it’s easy to forget that before he even cracked open his six-volume spiral notebook and interviewed with the Pegulas, the flying monkeys were circling New Era Field and waiting on him. After Wade Phillips refused to fire Ronnie Jones, a long parade of blowhards, egomaniacs, and really nice guys who weren’t qualified to be an NFL head coach had promised to bring the Bills back to respectability and failed. What would the new guy do to disappoint us?

In the weeks and months after his hiring, you didn’t have to dip your toe too far into the social media/sports media pool to find flying monkeys who were already very disappointed in Sean McDermott. For years, they raised their fists to the heavens and demanded a housecleaning at One Bills Drive and then suggested McDermott was power hungry when he finally cleaned the damn house.

They complained that he was practicing too much on the grass field at training camp and wasn’t quotable enough in media availability sessions. They chirped about his camouflage hat and “trust the process” and his borderline maniacal attention to minute details.

They claimed that trading Sammy Watkins was evidence he was tanking the season and demoting Tyrod Taylor wasn’t in the best interests of the team. When his players expressed a desire to protest against social injustice, some monkeys called him weak for allowing members of the team to take a knee during the national anthem while others called him weak for not taking a knee himself.

When he punted they complained that he should have gone for it and when he went for it, they complained that he should have kicked the field goal. Why isn’t he criticizing the refs more? Why didn’t he throw the red flag? What is his problem with Ronald Darby? What in the world possessed him to start Nate Peterman?

Full disclosure here: I’ve taken a few flights around town with the flying monkeys. I was concerned to see the Pegulas give so much power so quickly to a guy who had never been a head coach before. McDermott’s inability to bring in Mike McCoy as his offensive coordinator led me to wonder if he wasn’t highly respected in NFL coaching circles. Listening to the “It starts with one…” season ticket commercial on autoplay throughout the spring and summer led me to experience McDermott-fatigue before the guy even coached his first preseason game.

But my time up in the clouds with the monkeys is over. As we approach McDermott’s one year anniversary with the team, it’s borderline staggering to realize what he has accomplished in just 12 months:

He was instrumental in replacing Doug Whaley, Scott Berchtold, and the sad legacy of Rob Ryan with Brandon Beane, Derek Boyko, and Leslie Frazier.

McDermott led a draft that looks to have hit on at least four choices (White, Dawkins, Jones and Milano) while adding a first round selection in what appears to be a strong 2018 NFL Draft class.

Along with Beane, he accumulated draft assets by trading away unhappy “star” players and cleared millions of dollars in cap space by dealing a player many thought was unmovable.

McDermott magically used the most egregious mistake he made all season, the decision to start Peterman vs. the Chargers, as an opportunity to build trust with his players and help his team grow stronger as they approached the final stretch to the playoffs.

Away from the field, McDermott consistently demonstrated an ability the get the little things right. Prior to the NFL Draft, he quietly invited a group of Bills legends out to dinner to get a better understanding of the relationship between the team and its fans. In a post on Instagram, Jim Kelly noted, “…the gathering was probably one the most joyful nights I’ve had in years with my former teammates”. Prior to home games, McDermott ventured out into the parking lot to meet up with tailgating fans. On a number of occasions throughout the year, he welcomed fans who were battling significant adversity into the fabric of the team.

Having dealt with so much heartbreak and disappointment over the years, Bills fans are conditioned to believe that the ugly past will always be the ugly present. We’ve placed our faith in the wrong guy so many times that we aren’t particularly confident in our ability to identify the right guy. I’ve seen enough to lead me to believe that the Bills have finally found a leader who is, in Micah Hyde’s words, “the real deal”.

Raising over $300,000 for Andy Dalton’s foundation was a typically kind and noble gesture from my fellow Buffalo Bills fans, but I’m wondering if we’re inadvertently forgetting the guy who is most responsible for ending “The Drought”. What’s the name of Sean McDermott’s foundation and how can I contribute?