Outside of first-year head coach Sean McDermott and the 53 players on the Buffalo Bills, not many folks saw the 2017 version of the Bills as being playoff caliber, but that’s the beauty behind the exceptional job McDermott did during his first season in Western New York.
The Bills (9-7) raced out to a 5-2 start, weathered the lows of a three-game slide where they were outscored 135-55 during losses to the New York Jets, New Orleans Saints, and Los Angeles Chargers, then rebounded to win three of their final four games to secure the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs. Buffalo snapped an embarrassing 17-year playoff drought, and while the Bills dropped a 10-3 decision to the Jacksonville Jaguars, there were plenty of positives from McDermott’s first season as a head coach.
During his year-ending press conference, McDermott touched on the ups and downs of the season, how he evaluates himself and the job he did coaching the Bills, and what still needs to be done to turn the Bills from a playoff-caliber team to a championship-caliber squad.
“There’s tons of lessons I learned this year,” McDermott said last week. “I can go into detail [but] I don’t know if we have that kind of time right now, but I would just say the latest one or the latest things was a great reminder of what playoff football is all about and the fundamentals around playoff football. I think we learned some lessons in a pretty energetic environment in Jacksonville, just to name a few there. Playoff football and winning, playing winning playoff football is – there’s lessons in there and around there. The fundamentals around that that show up and you see that through the different games this time of year, it’s about, and a large part about fundamentals.”
McDermott, who was hired to lead the Bills nearly one year to the day of his 2017 year-ending press conference, also discussed the progress his team made and whether he felt the Bills exceeded expectations during his first season as head coach.
“I would say, in a lot of areas, we’re on schedule...In other areas, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” McDermott said. “I saw flashes, at times, of this thing getting turned in the right direction but we have to actively, like I mentioned earlier, pursue the vision. We’re not there yet, there’s a whole other level. One of the biggest challenges around professional sports – and I’ll speak to football and what I’ve observed – is to sustain success, because each year is different one from the next. Each team is different. The decisions we make roster-wise [and] personnel-wise as we move forward will be key in trying to build off of what we did this year. That, in and of itself, is a challenge. ... I’m anxious to build on what we did. The second year through it, for me as a head coach, there’s a lot I want to improve on as well and not only in what I do, but also our procedure [and] our approach. You guys know me, I’ve taken a lot of notes and we’re going to vet through those notes and make sure we’re doing everything at a certain type of level, a standard, and that’s a standard of winning. I think our team, the players that left yesterday, really personified that and helped us to establish a standard around here of what winning looks like.”
On how McDermott evaluates the job he and his coaches did during the season:
“The game is always changing, right? As a head coach, there’s a lot that goes into it. My whole goal, my whole approach as a person and as a coach is to be better today than I was yesterday and that’s a process. That’s the first thing I do after every game, is look at myself and hold myself accountable and I hold myself to a level that the players can see and everyone around this building can see and that we’re all the same, that we’re all on the same level and [when] we all hold each other accountable, good things happen.”
On the close-knit nature of the 2017 Bills, and how the camaraderie from inside the locker room could affect the team’s offseason moves:
“Yeah, I mean it’s a challenge, no doubt about it. That said, I’ve had a chance to be around, fortunately, Brandon and I, some successful teams before. This was, to your point, one heck of a football team - one heck of a team, when you just take the football part out of it. I think when you look at the way these guys sacrificed for one another, they were very unselfish in their approach. They fought through adversity. Making smart decisions is about making unemotional decisions at the same time, and that’s what we’ve got to do.”