The Buffalo Bills haven’t had new head coach Sean McDermott in the building for even three full months yet, but based on what we know at this point in time, you can’t help but feel things are just a bit different over at One Bills Drive.
This isn’t a piece meant to say Sean McDermott has fixed what ails the Bills and they’re ready to turn the corner as a winner again. Because, until games are actually played and his relationships and systems within the building are formed, we really just don’t know what to make of it.
However, what this does serve as, is a piece of perspective coming from the eyes of someone who, for the past seven years anyway, has spent around 150 days per year at the Bills facility, and about 350 days per year thinking about and talking to people about the team.
And to be quite frank, of the four long-term head coaches I’ve covered, something about the start of this McDermott era is just different — and in a good way.
They’ve all had their own different identities:
Chan Gailey was the older, quieter, offensive maven. Doug Marrone was the one everyone went out of their way to say was going to be a good head coach in the NFL. And Rex Ryan, well, he came in swinging with big promises that captured the imagination of the fan base.
McDermott, though, he’s a bit of a different character.
Anytime someone asks me, ‘So what do you think of the new coach,” my reply is some variation of the same thing:
“It just feels like a breath of fresh air has gone through One Bills Drive.”
So, how can we quantify this breath of fresh air? What are the characteristics that are so discernible from the previous three starts of a head coaching tenure to this one?
When really sitting down to ponder all of it, I think it breaks down to three separate things.
First, it feels like smarts and intelligence are winning out over moves made only in self-interest — and I can’t stress enough how important that is. There are allusions to research, logic, and everything the Bills are doing now aren’t coming out of left field. They’re done with purpose, and a large part of it is because the fact-driven head coach has been steadfast in his desires for that to happen.
You hear buzz terms like ‘process’ and ‘methodical’ from McDermott anytime he speaks, but while you hear them quite often, they don’t lose their value with the new head coach. Why? Because he believes in them. He relies on data, asking others for their opinions, and never resting until he has the best-researched answer — instead of just settling on his gut instinct.
[RELATED: McDermott says it would be “irresponsible” to ignore analytics in football]
Second, there is an air of respect and accountability with McDermott. While the ‘rah-rah’ style of Rex Ryan was fun at the beginning for fans, the act wore thin once the results weren’t pulling through. And even when the results weren’t coming through time and time again, the buck would be passed for some reason — often times pointing to hypothetical scenarios of why it could have turned out differently.
Instead, they have a head coach that is pretty clearly looking for players with high character. He wants to keep things simple for his players and put them in a position to succeed. It doesn’t seem like the responsibility for failure will be passed any longer. And, not to mention, it just seems like a happier environment with the Bills at the moment. It all adds up, and the changes are almost tangible.
Third, and most importantly, it seems like there’s a plan in place. The Bills brought back Tyrod Taylor to be their quarterback, but only under a deal that would allow them to maintain flexibility if they should choose to get out from underneath the contract. They’re making signings for the long-term, while not neglecting the short-term. They see the current window for winning with some of the older players they have while recognizing that this could be the last year to keep that core group fully intact.
They’re making moves to get themselves out of salary cap purgatory in future years while doing and saying all the right things. They recognize finding a long-term player at quarterback is of utmost importance, and have said as much.
Plus, when he was first hired, McDermott said he was out to “change the culture.” Through being the lone spokesman of the team, and negating all the drama that’s been out there, the Bills have done just that through the first almost three months.
Now, this is all written knowing firmly that we don’t know anything about Sean McDermott until the win and loss records start piling up throughout the years. There could be all these positive feelings now, and without a guarantee that it actually works, it might not.
However, when a team makes a stark change and wants to hire a new head coach, the ideal candidate is someone that represents a change for the better. Someone that helps reunite and reconnect the fan base. And someone that can help lead the team to where the league is going, rather than where it was.
That’s what the Bills new head coach has done thus far.
So when I say or write that McDermott being in the building as a new head coach is a “breath of fresh air,” this what I mean. And I believe he deserves the benefit of the doubt to this point.
Now, McDermott just has to prove that he can master the most important part of being a head coach, and something that has eluded the men in his position before him: Winning, and finally getting the Buffalo Bills back to the playoffs.