There’s been no shortage of drama surrounding the Buffalo Bills this season. Each week, it seems to evolve into a far more sinister form of experience for those involved, and certainly as it relates to team cohesion during a critical point very late in the season.
It had been just 24 hours since Tyler Dunne published his 25,000-word, three-part story on the inner workings of the Buffalo Bills and head coach Sean McDermott. Its aim, whether wholly the point or part of a larger goal, effectively took his accountability, leadership, and personality to task through a sprawling piece that contained interviews with 25 former co-players, coaches, etc. who worked with McDermott in Buffalo.
On Friday, both Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane spoke at length about Dunne’s work.
Transcripts of both conversations follow below.
Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott
We’ll skip ahead to just before the four-minute mark, at which point reporters begin asking him about the story on everyone’s mind.
“Last we talked to you, you were getting ready for the team meeting yesterday — just was wondering how did that go, what were the takeaways for the team.”
Sean McDermott: “You know, I thought it went as good as one could expect, as I could expect, and it was important for me, Katherine, to address the players that are new to us since 2019 and may not have been around that day — so that they understood that situation and how it unfolded, and that based on who I am and what they’ve seen — my hope — and how I try and do things, and how I handled that situation. So, it went well. Their support was clear, and much appreciated.”
“Did that feel like the bigger point of emphasis — the newer players versus players who had been there for the moment?
McDermott: “That was, part of the reason, a big part of the reason I did it because... having everyone on the same page and if I was a new player based on, you know, how I’ve seen Sean — I would expect them to think that doesn’t, that’s maybe, you know doesn’t fit what I’ve seen. So, again, just clear communication, accountability, and just trying to make sure everyone’s on the same page.”
“Yesterday you spoke to the specific part of the story. You said you hadn’t read the rest of it. The main theme of the story seemed to be surrounding you lack of accountability, at least in the eyes of all the people that were spoken to for the story. How do you respond to that?”
McDermott: “Yeah I don’t... I know who I am. I know I try and do things. Am I, am I without flaw? No, I’m not without flaw, and I say that humbly. I believe we try and do things right here. It doesn’t mean that everything we do is right. People are going to have their own opinions. I believe we’ve won a lot of games here since we’ve arrived, and I’m confident in that, I’m confident in this football team, and people are going to have their opinions. I can’t control that.”
“You mentioned you spoke with the team. What sort of conversations beyond the players did you have yesterday regarding what was in the article?”
McDermott: “Just, uh, more followup really from them to me in terms of support, in terms of text messages — guys seeking me out to say “coach..” — I mean even players that are no longer here, that have mentioned..., other people even staff, some in this room, some not in this room that know who I am, know how I try and do things. You know it was clearly an attack on — to me an attack on my character, and that’s important to me, very important as much if not more, very clearly more than wins and losses. Wins and losses are important, but what’s more important to me — from day one is how you handle yourself. And, again, it doesn’t mean that I’ve been perfect. No one’s perfect. Doesn’t mean that I haven’t been without flaw. But to me it’s most important that for myself and my family, my kids that I handle this job the right way.”
“Sean, what have the past 24 hours been like for you?”
McDermott: “Well I think, Joe, in any of our lives if this came up for any of us — something like this — it definitely gets your mind spinning. Right? Just being real. It’s been disappointing, it’s been hurtful. Right? At the end of the day, I know who I am. At the end of the day, I know how I handle myself. As I’ve said, humbly, I’m not without flaws. Right? I wake up every morning trying to do the best job that I can... to win games for the fans of the Buffalo Bills, and do it the right way. And that’s my main goal every day.”
“Sometimes we go through this world and we don’t know what people think of us — and I’m not saying the negative stuff, I’m talking about the people who you work with the people that you’re close with... but we don’t always say it. And I’m guessing that in the last 24 hours you’ve had a lot of people as you’ve mentioned, you indicated. But has that been — I don’t wanna put a word out there — a relief or the appreciation of when you hear those people come and say we’re with ya.”
McDermott: “Yeah, I mean absolutely Tim. You know, we all go through adversity. Right? There’s lessons in this for me. There’s lessons in this for my children — my older two in particular who can understand a little bit more. When you get text messages, when you get people going out of their way personally to come and see you, and when you get notes on your desk in the morning... messages from players who are no longer here that play currently with other teams — (a moment of levity here by McDermott) I’m not tampering. It’s support, and it’s love, and it’s affirming. Right? That you are because that’s important. Right? To feel like you’re trying to do things a certain way, and you want that to be viewed that way on the other end. Right? Saying ‘hey this is a guy that, you know, I think he’s a good coach and beyond that he tries to do things the right way. I think... that’s just very important to me. It’s important to how I was raised. And the focus right now is about, needs to be about moving forward and getting myself focused on this game, and the challenge of the Kansas City Chiefs. And I owe that to the team and I’m super proud of them in terms of how they’ve handled really the last two weeks, or week when some of this... things have come up. Right? So, they are steadfast in their approach in particular this week and the way that they’ve practiced.”
“How hard is that to have to compartmentalize kind of like put this to the side with a game on Sunday and kind of with something like this that can take up a lot of space in your mind? Like, how do you — maybe that’s not, there’s not an easy answer.”
McDermott: “Yeah, no it’s not. I mean, this is what this is what I get paid to do, in terms of it’s what I get paid to do and it’s what I owe to the team, it’s what I owe to the fans of the Buffalo Bills. And as I’ve alluded before and earlier here, I don’t take that responsibility lightly.”
“I know it’s only been like 24 hours, but what are some of your takeaways so far on just this experience?”
McDermott: “Yeah I mean, um, we could probably take an hour to talk about them Katherine. I mean, just starting with, um... you know... you make every day count, you know. You take the joy that you have when you get the job and it can ebb and flow through experiences — through trials and tribulations. And you don’t want to lose that. Right? You don’t want to lose it. But it gets tested. As a person of faith, I think that’s important. I’m gonna say it — is that I know who I walk with or I try and walk with daily. Again, not that I’m, not that I’m without flaws.”
“Talked a lot about character this week. Early in the week with Von there’s a lot of fans that are uncomfortable with what happened last week and then potentially seeing him playing on Sunday. I know you addressed it and Brandon addressed it, but do you feel comfortable playing him at this point knowing everything that’s gone on?”
McDermott: “And Matt, I 100% understand. I get it. I understand this is not an easy situation. You know, it’s the hardest part for us is I’m a football coach, I’m not an investigator and we only have so much information at this point. So we’re doing the best job we can with what we have or don’t have, mostly in this case. I can promise those out there that we have looked into every last thing. We jumped on a call Sunday night again and I said ‘everyone get together and say: what do we know, what do we know, what do we know?’ And there were multiple people on that call that represent different parts of our organization who have expertise in these areas. And this is where we’re at. I wish I had a better answer for those people. I can promise ya, we’re always going to try and do the best thing number one for doing what’s right, beyond the football field. In this case, this is where we’re at. And I think for me and for them we have to continue to take it one day at a time to see what more comes forward if you will.”
“Is this something that you say that taking it one day at a time there’s constant conversation about like if something new comes in is it like ‘okay does this change anything’ like how, I guess how’s that work going forward from your perspective?”
McDermott: “Yeah, it hasn’t been. You know, initially obviously there was information, but there was a lot of things — I don’t know, you know — just things out there. I don’t know if I can call that information because is it fact, is it not I don’t know, right? So there was a lot of things coming out, I guess I should say, early. Recently it’s been rather quiet in terms of information from the sources we need the information from, and that’s really what we’re, at this point, waiting on so we know more going forward.”
“Given the last 24 hours, the ongoing situation with Von, after you had the players’ meeting with the team yesterday did you feel — going into that did you have any concerns about this team’s buy-in still and recognition of the culture you’ve established? And after that did you feel reaffirmed that everybody was still on the same page and things are going the direction culture-wise that you had envisioned so far?”
McDermott: “Yes, I do. You know, I do. I feel strongly that the looks in their eyes yesterday, the looks in their eyes when they came back here. You know they were back Monday I didn’t really have — we didn’t have a team meeting, they conditioned Monday but we didn’t have a team meeting ‘til Wednesday. They seem like they are strong and focused on the Kansas City Chiefs and the leadership of our team led by guys like Micah Hyde were very evident this week and much appreciated.”
McDermott answered one final question that allowed him to give a 30,000-foot overview of the challenge this year’s Chiefs team presents.
Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane
“Brandon, we heard from Sean yesterday, maybe if you could... just your reaction as one of the leaders in this organization? (Beane asks for clarification.) As far as what Sean had to say yesterday, and you know obviously his comments going back you know this is four years now.”
Brandon Beane: “Obviously when you’re in leadership positions you’ve got a lot of people looking up to you, and none of us are perfect. Okay? And I think Sean acknowledged that. I went into the team meeting yesterday. I think he talked to you guys first. I went in the team meeting and I thought it was very authentic. I thought the guys all saw that and felt that and know Sean for who he is. And I think you guys that have been around here some years know who Sean’s character is, and I’ll stand by his character every day of the week.”
“The big assertion in the story — I’m not sure if you read it — but you know Sean indicated that it was an attack on his character. But 25 former players, coaches that basically the theme of it was there’s been a lack of accountability within the organization from Sean. Has that been your experience with him?”
Beane: “No, no, no, not at all. Listen, this is a tough business and in the positions that we’re in, sometimes people don’t leave here thrilled with the reason or agree with the reason, and you know it’s just... you know it’s unfortunate. You would love for everyone to leave here smiling and happy, and it’s a competitive business and, again, sometimes you have to agree to disagree. But no, that’s not how I would categorize Sean in my eyes.”
“Brandon, what have you seen from Sean in the last day like his reaction to it — like what have those conversations been like between the two of you?”
Beane: “I mean, he’s hurt, and he’s human, and you know just like when your family member’s down or something’s happened that’s — you just put your arms around and support him and support his family, and just try and work through this. It’s obviously been a tough week... Von had his situation that we were working through and then you know this dropped yesterday and so... we’ll just work through it. You know, we’re kinda used to it in this business dealing with adversity, and I think we’ve had our fair share. I think we’re ready to move on and play football, and I know the guys are excited to get to Kansas City on Sunday.”
“How much has (Buffalo Bills co-owner) Terry (Pegula) been involved in this challenging week in those conversations?”
Beane: “Sean and I talk to him regularly and so he’s very up to speed, from the minute we learned about the situation with Von, to when Derek (Boyko, vice president of communications) let us know about this yesterday and we got on the horn with Terry right away. And so, he’s very involved and he’s up to speed.”
“Were you aware of these comments from Sean during this meeting prior to yesterday?”
Beane: “No. I had heard about something offhand but I really don’t, I’m not in the team meetings and by the time I heard something was said or whatever he had already call them together and kind of you know tried to repair it and apologize however he did. I didn’t — I was not in the meeting and I did not hear the apology then.”
“(To) clarify you’re talking about back in 2019?”
Beane: “Yes, yes.”
“Were you in the meeting yesterday at all when Sean addressed team — what was that like?”
Beane: “Yeah, that’s what I was saying earlier. He was very authentic. I mean, I don’t wanna get into the words but very real, as he generally is with the guys. And you know, same thing: You know, when something comes out like this, a lot of players were not here — we know the roster turns over. So, I think he just kinda went back through that situation to make sure — and offered up ‘does anyone have any questions?’ And he was very vulnerable, and you know I know the guys — I think it, you know without speaking to every single player - I think it resonated. And like this team always does, the guys are gonna rally around him.”
“You referenced earlier the week that it’s been. It’s been — there’s been a lot going on here. How much of a distraction is this for the team and how confident are you that this locker room and the players in there still believe in their head coach?”
Beane: “I think they very much believe and if there was a bunch of questions or back and forth yesterday — I’ve been in team meetings where not everyone’s on the same page and when it’s an open forum, and there was none of that. There was none of that coming out of the meeting. No one was, you know, grabbing me on the side or coming to my office separately or anything like that. You know, I think he handled a very tough situation. Owned up to the mistake of it, and I thought he was very vulnerable, which, you know, people respect that. And if you can’t sit there and read off of a card or a statement. You can, but I don’t think it’s as genuine. And so, my comments to him afterward were just to support him and ‘I know it’s tough and I thought you handled it the best you could.’”
“Brandon, going off that, in light of the comments, I mean, was there people in the organization that (might feel) differently about Sean now — do you still feel like people in this organization look to Sean as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, someone they can trust as well? People outside the locker room, specifically.”
Beane: “Can people...?”
“From staff members, people who work around the facility who, you know, are invested in this team just as much as you guys are.”
Beane: “I think everyone in this organization understands that we’re all human. I’ve made mistakes, you know, if you’re in these positions long enough you’re gonna do things or lead people or say something that you’re like ‘damn, I wish I had that back.’ And I think it’s how you handle it, if people are gonna follow you. And if Sean was deflecting it onto someone else and not himself, then maybe it wouldn’t be the same response. But I have no doubt that the players, and the staff, and the support staff that you’re talking about are all behind him, and all behind this team.”
“If what was reported in regards to what he said in that meeting in 2019 is indeed accurate — in your mind, is that unacceptable?”
Beane: “Yeah, I don’t... he, he knows he made a mistake and I think he owned. Like I said Jay... if you’re in these seats long enough sometimes you do something you’re like ‘damn, I wish I had that back,’ and that’s probably the best way I can categorize it.”
“Before the story came out, pressure has been intensifying from the fan base obviously the national media, local media on Sean and his tenure. There’s been a lot of success, but there’s been high-profile games that weren’t successes. Where do you feel like he’s at in your eyes leading to this final push and where does he sit with you guys at 6-6 here?”
Beane: “Listen, this is a hard business. It’s hard to win every single week and, yeah, we all wish we had done things different and made more plays, not turn the ball over. I’m sure, as he’s the play caller now on defense, I’m sure he, you know, you look back at a game — you’re not gonna say ‘man, I called a perfect game today,’ there’s things. But everyone is 100% behind Sean and everyone’s not focused, Matt, on the previous 12 games and the number 6-6. Everyone is focused, it’s been a good week of practice. I know we’ve had a couple of hiccups here we’ve had to deal with off the field, but out there you wouldn’t know it. And I just was out there for every bit of that practice — just to watch that and see it. No, the guys are gonna rally and there’s two things you can do: You can divide or you can rally, and I expect this team to rally.”
“In regards to Von, you know the decision is there for you guys to make to maybe not have him up on game day, you know, as one of the 48. It doesn’t sound like that is the plan right now, at least after listening to Sean this morning. I guess the question is just... why not?”
Beane: “Yeah, it’s a, it’s a slippery slope, Jay. I mean, and there’s no — I said this the other day: No matter what you do, somebody’s not gonna agree. We could sit him, you could, you know, talk to the league see if there was a suspension or something you can do. You know, it’s a slippery slope in that any time something is an accusation versus, you know, as I said the other day we’re not not investigators, we don’t have all the information. We have very little because the — you know, it’s considered an open investigation. And so, if we had clarity that he had committed, you know, any of the original accusations before the story was amended, then yeah, I think we’d do something different. But if... it’s a, it’s a dangerous slope if someone walks in here and starts, and says something else about another player — where do you draw the line of who you’re gonna sit and who you’re not. And so, we’re just gonna — again, as I said — follow the league and let them use their resources. And, we do our best, but we’re kinda at their beck and call as well. And so, at this time Von is, will continue to remain a member of the team and week by week we’re gonna play the best 48.”
“Thoughts come up about (Matt) Araiza when he was cleared — I mean, he’s been cleared of that. But everybody else labeled him and he seems like he did nothing wrong. You know, it’s similar to your point of...”
Beane: “It’s so hard because if you go back to that situation, you know, we were obviously taking a lot of public heat. There was a lot of, I would say, we did not know Matt as long, either. So you know what you’re being told about a person from the college people that we kinda dig on these guys, and we had had a little bit of time with him in the spring. But, so, you know that was a Title 9 thing, there was, um, we could get very little out of it, other than what we were reading — the same thing you guys were reading. You know, and it was obviously sounded very very bad. And you know, we were hopeful that they could put him on the Commissioner’s Exempt list, but that wasn’t an option because it was only a civil case. So it’s a — these are, again, without getting too deep into it — everyone’s its own, has its own situation and we’re not perfect. I’m not sitting here saying we handled that perfectly, and I’m not saying we’re handling this one perfectly. We’re doing the best we can with what we have, also following the league’s guidance. And I would just ask people, you know, to look, you know, at our track record here — from the Pegulas, to Sean, myself — that we try to bring in people with high character here, and we want everything to be — you know, we don’t even want this situation to come up. Sometimes things do. But we do look for the, you know, high-character people, and we’re trying to our best we can. And, you know, as I said to Jay earlier, sometimes there are gonna be people that disagree no matter which way you go, and that’s part of the business.”