On the outside, Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott appeared to be cool, calm, and collected during his first season at the helm of the Bills in 2017.
McDermott always relied on his customary “process” phrase to survive and endure the ups and downs that come with being a head coach in America’s most popular sport.
There sure were plenty of ups — storming out of the gates winning three of their first four and five of their first seven games— and plenty of downs — dropping three straight games to the New York Jets, New Orleans Saints, and Los Angeles Chargers by an embarrassing margin of 135-55 — during McDermott’s inaugural season in Western New York.
While McDermott never publicly lost his cool, particularly after much of the league criticized his decision to bench Tyrod Taylor in favor of then-rookie Nathan Peterman during a pivotal game with the Chargers, when Peterman threw five interceptions in a demoralizing loss that could have cost the Bills their chances at a playoff berth, McDermott told Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News during an interview at the league’s annual owners’ meeting that his first season was a “baptism by fire.”
“It’s like you’re drinking at times from a big fire hose that doesn’t stop,” McDermott said. ”I said to the guys, ‘It’s like I went into a battle and I came out and I survived. I got some scars, though.’”
Eventually, McDermott steadily guided the Bills to a 9-7 record and a Wild Card berth, snapping Buffalo’s 17-year playoff drought. Even though the Bills suffered a 10-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Wild Card round, McDermott’s effort inspired hope that, finally, after so many failed coaches since Marv Levy retired, Buffalo has the right man coaching the team.
“It’s funny now, being through it – and, listen, I don’t profess to have all the answers – but to hear these (new head) coaches now going through what I went through last year, whether I see them at the Combine, whether they call on the phone, and they’re saying, ‘Hey, you didn’t tell me about this part,’” said McDermott, Buffalo’s 10th coach since Levy left after the 1997 season.
“And I say, ‘Well, baptism by fire. Welcome to the club, buddy.’”
Pulling back the curtain some on the interview process with owners Terry and Kim Pegula, McDermott told Carucci that a major reason for his success was his commitment to preparation in every aspect of coaching.
Before he even interviewed to become Buffalo’s 20th head coach, McDermott had devised a plan of action for his first 90 days on the job, showing the Pegulas how serious and committed he was to turning around the culture of losing in Orchard Park.
“I tried to add some context to the topic and say, ‘Listen, this is important as you prepare because I was asked about the first 90 days in probably half of the interviews that I had. It’s not something that you just wait until you get the job and then handle.’ Which some guys do, and they make a big mistake,” McDermott said. “And I’ve been asked by a couple first-year head coaches since I’ve become a head coach, ‘Hey, tell me about your calendar for your offseason program.’ So I just try to educate the (assistant) coaches who were in the room of, ‘You need to do this now. (Otherwise) you’re going to look like you don’t know what you’re doing if you get into a job. If you’re, in fact, not asked about it for some reason in an interview, then you’re going to have to be ready to go when you get the job. Calling other places, you can certainly do that, but that’s not the best way to make a first impression. The general theme to my message was you only have one chance to make a first impression.”
Now for McDermott, the focus shifts to this April’s NFL Draft, where Buffalo holds six picks in the top 95 selections, and nine picks overall.
With an arsenal of draft picks and plenty of holes to fill, Bills fans should feel confident about at least one thing heading into the draft: Whether they trade up to draft one of the quarterbacks, or whether they sit still and use the picks they currently possess, McDermott and his staff will do their homework and will brush up on the best available college players who can help the Bills return to the playoffs in 2018.