How many distractions can the Buffalo Bills tackle this season? At some point, we may be able to resume talking about normal football things concerning the Bills. But that will have to wait until after writers like Tyler Dunne of Go Long have cleared the juicy content from their plates.
In Dunne’s latest long-form story, he lays bare a 20,000-word, three-part opus that casts Sean McDermott in some of the dimmest light possible — all buttressed by interviews from 25 former co-workers of McDermott. This follows a recent report from Tim Graham of The Athletic that McDermott’s seat isn’t hot, “not a chance,” per multiple sources close to the team. Dunne agrees with that reporting in Graham’s story, stating that it’s difficult to move on from a head coach with as many wins as McDermott.
For Dunne, right or wrong, some of the public’s perception of him in the immediate aftermath of this piece is the belief that he’s published a coordinated smear campaign due to personal reasons and timed it during a point when it would be most advantagous. But those opinions are just that, and it’s wise to consider the source of most implications, here now, and in life.
I was never a credentialed media member under Go Long with this club. One of the few. Covered the Bills back at the Buffalo News days, so maybe that’s why people are confused. Tried spelling out in the story. Every team’s prerogative. Thank you for reading!— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) December 7, 2023
Following his time with The Buffalo News and penning national features for Bleacher Report, Dunne broke off on his own to build his Go Long platform, and it’s done exceedingly well. Dunne oozes credibility as a writer, and his content remains both engaging and informative. But one thing that continues to anchor him is his lack of official credentials to report from the Bills’ facility. That hasn’t prevented him from interviewing plenty of Bills players on a regular basis.
For this three-part story, former Bills players Patrick DiMarco, Lee Smith, and Isaiah McKenzie went on record for their interviews. Besides those three, the remainder of people Dunne interviewed remain anonymous. All we’re told is that each and every person was a part of the team at one point in time during McDermott’s tenure.
Short of giving away all the details contained in Dunne’s three-part story, it’s worth noting that (among other things) he tackles leadership qualities and McDermott’s idea of ownership of responsibility, late-game gaffes, various topics about Josh Allen (some funny, some not), former players stating that the wrong guy was fired, Diggs being all-in on the Bills... but not McDermott, and a bizarre locker room speech from 2019 that unwisely and carelessly referenced 9/11.
Once Dunne’s piece hit, McDermott found himself in front of a microphone awkwardly addressing the situation, and facing questions about his questionable decisions made in a private setting.
Sean McDermott just addressed the 9/11 meeting referenced by @TyDunne's article published today. He said he plans on addressing this with the team later today once they get out of meetings. Here's the first few minutes of his comments from moments ago @WKBW pic.twitter.com/lKBdGVd8GV— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) December 7, 2023
Sean McDermott spoke to the media regarding a reference he made to 9/11 in a team meeting back in 2019 (as stated in @TyDunne's article).— Heather Prusak (@haprusak) December 7, 2023
Here is part of what McDermott said, saying he referenced it to emphasize the importance of communication. pic.twitter.com/SDhaJfKbdT
Similar to the timing of Dunne’s release, it’s worth wondering why this news comes out more than four years after the fact, and why the story reportedly doesn’t contain the near-immediate apology that McDermott explained took place.
ESPN Senior NFL Insider Adam Schefter has also covered Dunne’s story, including a post dedicated to those comments about 9/11 — the screenshot of which was Schefter’s initial post that didn’t link to Dunne’s work. Shefter was called to task on social media and elsewhere, and followed up with a quick post linking his audience to Dunne’s story.
To say there are a lot of distractions permeating One Bills Drive at this point is a major understatement. Among them:
- The team’s overall record and playoff potential teetering on the brink of disaster
- McDermott throwing the offense under the bus following losses to the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos
- McDermott ultimately firing of Ken Dorsey
- Continued narratives questioning wide receiver Stefon Diggs about his commitment to the Bills
- McDermott’s ongoing issues with end-of-game decisions: FG penalty giving Broncos win, kneeling out regulation with time on the clock and a TO for Josh Allen to use against Eagles
- The appalling accusations and details reported surrounding the arrest of edge rusher Von Miller
- And now, Dunne’s exposé on McDermott that’s managed to associate him with conversations about 9/11
People will continue to take different sides on both Dunne’s latest work and the idea of retaining or moving on from McDermott. For some, they will see this story as nothing more than retribution by Dunne (which is a discredit to his work). For others, they will see it as the proverbial nail in the coffin of McDermott’s career with the Buffalo Bills.
Moving on from Sean McDermott would be no easy decision, considering all that he’s helped the franchise accomplish in six-plus seasons. At the end of that line, however, are enough instances of McDermott’s failures with in-game head coaching decisions.
He willingly continues to place blame elsewhere in public settings far too often. If you add what’s been described as (my words) an odd relationship with some players and others, it’s worth wondering just how safe McDermott is at this point. That’s true even if both Graham and Dunne are on record stating that Pegula is not going to move on from McDermott.
So yes, it’s not so easily a cut-and-dry decision to go in a different direction at head coach. Public understanding of the team’s hierarchy leaves that decision up to Kim & Terry Pegula. There are obviously far-more-important concerns within the Pegula family at this point. But instead of the typical dynamic where a team’s general manager decides the fate of the head coach, both Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott report directly to ownership. From day one, the relationship between Beane and McDermott has appeared as lock-step as it gets in the NFL, if not even more connected than typical.
McDermott’s an oft-described leader of men, and someone who excels at the 30,000-foot view of a situation. But he seems to get lost in the minutiae of live-game settings. Losing McDermott would almost assuredly mean an overhaul on defense. Despite the current perceptions, this team isn’t broken. It’s fair now to wonder if McDermott is the right leader to repair what’s needed, even when considering his previous accomplishments. After more than six years, he continues to make the same mistakes that cost the team wins. At what point, if ever, will that change? Should a change at head coach come to pass, what would that mean for Brandon Beane?
One thing that is true? The Buffalo Bills need to begin winning a lot of game in a hurry — for their season, the team’s immediate and semi-long term future, and for outside perceptions to rebound.